- Publisher: Rocky Ridge Books
- Edition: 2nd
- Available in: Paperback, MOBI, EPUB, PDF
- Published: July 7, 2013
Time in Iraq cost Michael Ritter some of his hearing and a friend whose death he feels responsible for. He’d left Alabama hoping to escape a dull, small-town life, only to return four years later, lugging a duffel full of personal demons.
Cookesville, Alabama isn’t the most welcoming place on earth, particularly for a gay, Hispanic student wanting nothing more than to earn his degree and get back home to Texas. An image of a somber young man that he knows only by name and the stories told by an adoring sister comes to life when Michael returns home, just as Jay is already half-way to losing his heart.
Michael’s biggest battle lies ahead, and he’ll need all the help he can get to find his way in a world where he no longer fits in. Jay’s not sure where he fits either, but it could be next to the war-torn soldier who needs his strength.
All royalties go to Eden’s PFLAG chapter.
“There,” Jay said, releasing his death grip on Michael’s wrist. “Now we can talk.”
Glaring lights flooded the bathroom and Michael blinked hard, adjusting to the sudden brightness. He heard, rather than saw, the door close and the lock engage.
“Look, dude, are you playing me?”
“Playing? What the hell are you talking about, Jay?” What had he done? Surely he hadn’t misread Jay’s interest? The kitchen confession had taken every bit of Michael’s nerve. Jay was supposed to be happy, damn it, and kissing him into oblivion, not questioning his motives.
Arm braced against the wall by Michael’s head, Jay growled, “Wanna know what it’s like with another man? Are you just satisfying your curiosity before you run back, safe and sound, to your little straight world? I know I promised whatever you needed, but if you’re hunting someone to experiment with and aren’t really particular about the who, then you’ve come to the wrong place.”
“No, it’s not like that.” Michael hadn’t fully recovered from his earlier adrenaline overload and, though he knew deep down that Jay wouldn’t hurt him, a tendril of fear crept up his spine.
Jay’s expression became less frightening, although an undercurrent of anger remained. Voice somewhat calmer, he asked, “Well then tell me, Michael. What is it like?”
Seeking the right words to redeem himself, all that came out was, “I’m gay.”
If eyes were the windows to the soul, his were a pair of sliding glass doors, no curtain in sight. His deepest, darkest thoughts had nowhere to hide as Jay’s gaze bored into his, exposing every secret. Without warning Jay swooped in and delivered a brutal kiss. Michael’s cock grew instantly hard.
Jay pulled away, reaching down and squeezing the engorged flesh. Michael moaned, welcoming the unexpected contact. Jay jumped back as if burned. “You really aren’t playing, are you?”
Michael shook his head.
Jay’s expression grew unreadable, but at least it wasn’t angry. “Sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to do that.”
Michael closed his eyes and let out a held breath. If he looked at Jay now he’d be too unnerved to speak, and there were things that desperately needed to be said. “It’s okay,” he said, willing Jay’s hand to return and finish what it started. Maybe it was time for a little blunt honesty. “It’s not like I haven’t been leading you on.”
Jay no longer accused Michael but defended him. “No, it’s not okay. I knew how things were for you, how they are. I pushed. When you caught me off guard like that out on the porch, I dared to get my hopes up. Why didn’t you tell me you were gay?”
Michael opened his eyes to stare at their reflections in the mirror hanging over the sink, heart beating so loudly Jay had to hear the steady thudding. “I’m not out and planned on leaving this God-forsaken place before that ever happened.”
Jay opened and closed his mouth a few times, but nothing emerged. Finally he asked, “You’re not out to anyone? Not even your family?”
Michael shrugged. “Mom knows.”
“But not Angie?”
“I plan on telling her, I just haven’t had the chance. Besides, she’s too busy with school right now and would only make a big fuss over me.” Not to mention meddle in his life, fixing him up with every eligible gay male she’d even remotely heard of and badgering him incessantly about his love life.
“That’s true,” Jay agreed. “I still can’t believe she doesn’t know. Y’all seem to be so close.”
Michael loved his sister, but now was not the time for discussing her. Now was the time to get back to the kissing and groping. He pushed aside his body’s demands long enough to explain, “We are, but I’m just coming to terms with this myself. And, like I said, I didn’t intend to come out here.”
“Then why did you? As far as I know everyone thinks you’re straight. Why jeopardize that, especially if you plan on leaving?”
In answer, Michael leaned in and locked their mouths together, pouring every bit of his desire and longing into the kiss. Slowly he pulled away and leaned back against the wall, saying with his eyes what he couldn’t say with words.
“Me. You came out for me,” Jay said quietly. It wasn’t a question.
“Yes. I told you downstairs who I wanted.”
They stood gazing at each other for a long moment before Jay replied, “I’ll accept that. But I have to ask you this, and you can tell me it’s none of my business if you want, but had you ever kissed a man before tonight?”
“No.” It seemed he was doing okay with honesty, so Michael stuck with what worked.
It stopped working. “That’s what I thought. Look, you’re obviously dealing with some pretty heavy shit tonight and I took advantage of that. I’m no better than Terry. I just hope I haven’t ruined our friendship by pushing.”
“Don’t you dare go noble on me now.” Michael shut Jay up the best way he knew how. Heart hammering and his few remaining inhibitions screaming at him to run, he tilted his head and sealed their lips together, effectively crossing the point of no return.
Kissing Jay was different from kissing a girl, the unfamiliar tickle of whiskers a reminder that Michael was, in fact, kissing a man. Kissing Jay. It was exciting beyond his wildest dreams. No girl had ever made him feel like this.
If he were going to Hell the least he could do was enjoy the ride. When a low moan escaped he wondered who’d made it, then decided it didn’t matter. Jay’s rigid body gradually relaxed.
Abruptly Jay stepped back, panting hard. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Well, you’re not drunk.” A soft smile played across his lips. He studied Michael with a critical eye and then stretched out one hand. Expression solemn, he said, “If that’s how you truly feel, and you mean it when you say you want me, then allow me to escort you from your closet.”