A bomb destroyed high-powered lawyer Gil Lemieux’s seemingly perfect life, and PTSD has ruled every decision since the explosion that left him scarred inside and outside. Moving home with his mom is meant to be a temporary measure, just like proofreading for a medical editorial firm is meant to be a stopgap. But two years after taking on the wrong court case, he’s still living in fear.
Keith Kramer might be based 1,500 miles away from Gil, but their shared work brings them together—a chance meeting that’s life-changing. Gil is drawn to Keith’s good looks and intelligence, but it’s his innate understanding that Gil is more than the scars on his skin that is truly attractive. He’s everything Gil used to be and more. It blows Gil’s mind that his attraction might be returned.
Only doubt could widen the distance between them. Keith’s hopefulness, borne out of surviving some tough challenges of his own, isn’t enough to bridge the distance alone. Gil will need to believe he has as much to offer as Keith if they’re to build a life together.
87,000 words, 275 pages
- 2 Read lists
“Yesterday you mentioned an incident.” Keith’s voice is tentative.
“Life-changing, I think you said. Were you not always a copy editor?”
Why did he go there? I know I come across differently than I used to, but maybe copy editor doesn’t fit the new me. “No. Lawyer. I was working in family law for over a decade.”
“Was,” Keith says under his breath as he nods. “Divorces, custody, things like that?”
“Yep. That and more.”
“And you left… why?”
My hands tremble, made more obvious by the single file I’m holding, which flutters with the movement. Keith glances down but then looks back at my eyes as if the file had moved only because of a stiff breeze.READ MORE
“That bad, huh?” His mouth leaves seriously-concerned-land and is transformed by a warm, earnest curve. Over the last year and a half, I’ve discovered a genuine smile directed my way is not an easy thing to pull off. They almost always come off as pity.
I slap the file on the cabinet top, releasing some of my tension, and heavily sit opposite him. His eyes are so open right then. He relaxes back into his leather chair as though he has all the time in the world to listen to me rather than deal with an office in utter turmoil.
“I was attacked by someone I allegedly wronged,” I say too softly and resolve myself to speak with more confidence as I continue. “There was a homemade bomb. Thankfully I wasn’t in the spot he wanted me or I’d be dead. When I unlocked the front door to my house, it was triggered, but I’d bent to pick up a package UPS had left for me at the same time I turned the key. All I got was glass and small particles of hot metal in the face and skull. Some in the chest. Most of the shrapnel flew over me.”
Keith pinches his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger and takes a few breaths. “Do you know who did it?”
I nod. “Toughest case I had. Abusive father, who was trickier than hell, covered all his bases. He blamed me for talking his wife into no visitation with his kids. She was the one who pushed for no contact, and with good reason.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to blame a lawyer than someone we still love.”
“I think you’re right.” I maintain eye contact rather than looking away like I yearn to.
“Do you not practice law because of the fear of reprisal?”
My hands shake again, drawing my gaze to my lap. I clench them together to make them stop, but that only makes the blood pulsing under my skin more evident; it’s getting faster, and molten heat slides over my body. I’m sure I’m beet-red.
I don’t talk about this sort of thing with anyone beyond my mother, Dr. Soto, and occasionally Frankie.
So why the hell am I admitting this shit to a coworker who walks around in impeccable suits with a useless cane to make himself look like a Dapper Dan? I scowl at his stupid walking stick, which leans against the inner corner of his desk. The rounded silver top has veins in it. It makes me think of a miniature pumpkin. Fucking vegetable on a stick? What the hell is that?
“I’m sorry I pried,” Keith says, obviously reading my frustration. He presses his fingertips to his lips for a moment but then lets them drop to his chin as he rests his elbows on the leather arms of his chair. “Sometimes I step beyond the bounds, and I don’t know it until I’m already on the other side. I’m truly sorry.”
He’s sincere, so I mentally kick myself for insulting him. “It’s not something I’m used to talking about. The simplest answer is I’m still dealing with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder from the explosion.”
Keith nods as he reaches for his walking stick to finger a seam in the silver top. It looks like a nervous response. I try not to think about the ridiculousness of the accessory. He stays silent, which isn’t helping things at all.
It’s too damn quiet in the room. On the whole stupid floor.
“But PTSD’s not a simple answer at all,” I say to break the oppression. “Anytime I tried to go back to work, I had panic attacks. I’d drive near my law office and taste bile. The explosion happened at my old house. I never went back. Hired people to pack everything up and move me. The house was on the market as soon as it was fixed. It’s stupid how I responded.”
“It’s not stupid,” Keith says, voice gentle. “It’s how our minds protect us.”
“I was all over the place, and as soon as my physical wounds were fixed, my mental healing started. It’s ongoing.”
“I understand that.”
How could you understand? I resist shouting by biting my inner cheek.
“And here I am.” My voice is wasted, but I keep it from getting too thick by swallowing hard. Why the hell am I still talking? His face is so damn earnest. “I’m a thirty-eight-year-old man who’s back living with his mom and working part-time in a risk-free, dead-end job. I’ll probably never practice law again. Any sort of stress, even normal things can set me off, like going through airport security yesterday. And the dreams.”
“It’ll get easier as time goes by.”
“What do you know?” I say, my anger finally popping through.
Keith holds his walking stick tightly in his palm and rests on it as he stands. He takes a few halting steps around the desk, heavily leaning on the cane.
My blood runs cold like someone dumped a bucket of ice water down my back.
I’m such a jaded asshole.
He lifts his left pant leg, and I can see where a huge hunk of flesh is missing under his sock. I don’t know if it’s muscle or bone or both, but his leg is concave where it shouldn’t be. I’m thankful I’m already sitting down, because my immediate remorse turned my knees to water.
“What happened?” I can barely breathe.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”COLLAPSE