My latest from Loose Id, Damaged Heart is out today, September 23rd. This story has lots of angst. I loved Cory and Rhys and enjoyed every moment I spent with them writing their story. I absolutely adore the cover, thank you GD Leigh! And thank you, Kathleen Calhoun for doing such a great editing job!
How about a little snippet to wet your appetite? 🙂
Just twenty years-old, Cory Johnson fled Bayville after his father’s suicide to escape his abusive mother. He made a life for himself in Los Angeles, as different from Bayville as a place could possibly be. While his successful legal career is rewarding, Cory can’t connect with the people in his life. He’s terribly alone. When his mother dies, he must–reluctantly–return home to handle her estate, which he knows will only make those feelings worse.
Rhys Tucker owns the construction company that will renovate Cory’s childhood home. He’s harbored a crush on Cory since high school, so he seizes the unexpected opportunity to get close to Cory. Or at least try to. Their physical chemistry is immediate and undeniable, but Cory’s so closed-off, Rhys worries he’ll never penetrate that guarded, damaged heart.
Cory wants Rhys. He does. But can someone as scarred and broken as he is ever really come home?
He picked up the boy and held him in a relaxed manner. The miniature monster apparently didn’t freak him out in the least. “He looks like Lydia’s kid.” The hunk looked around the restaurant and called out to a waitress. “Is this Tyler?”
“What’s he doing out of his playpen? I’ll get Lydia.” The waitress disappeared into the back area.
“You know, he doesn’t bite,” the stranger said, studying me. The kid was trying to slap the man’s cheeks, and he avoided the child’s hands deftly.
“I know for a fact he has teeth. I saw them both,” I said, trying to regain some composure. It wasn’t easy with him standing so close to me. His blue jeans hugged his strong legs, and he smelled like fresh air and confidence. I wondered if his self-assurance would slip any if I flirted with him.
“Names Rhys Tucker.” He held out his hand.
I hesitated briefly before taking it. His skin was as warm and firm as I’d imagined, and my stomach had a little visit from some butterflies. “Cory Johnson.”
There was obvious recognition in his gaze, but then it was gone. “I knew that was you. We went to school together.”
“Did we?” I was certain I’d have remembered him. Though my school days were a depressing blur, I should recall knowing someone like Rhys.
“Briefly. You left a couple of months after I arrived.” He swallowed, and for the first time he looked nervous. Well, not as nervous as me, but I would take what I could get. “I was the new kid in town. Some of the other students were assholes to me, but you were different. You were kind.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Are you back for good?” He adjusted the cooing kid in his arms.
I shook my head. “Oh, God no.”
He frowned. “Not a fan of Bayville?”
I shrugged. “I prefer LA.” Obviously he’d had a different experience than I had growing up here.
A plump woman, who I assumed was Lydia, came hurrying up to us, her worried gaze locked on the child. “Tyler, you’re driving me nuts.” She took him from Rhys and laughed. “I’m sorry. I think he’s part monkey.”
“No, it’s fine. He didn’t hurt anything,” Rhys answered her. “He’s grown a bunch since I last saw him.”
Lydia hefted the kid on her hip and sighed. “He’s a handful; that’s for sure.” She turned her apologetic gaze on me. “I’m sorry if he interrupted your meal.”
What could I say, Thank you for that; he was pretty annoying? I decided to be polite instead. “It’s fine. You might want to get him a piece of bread. He seemed fixated on mine.”
“Yeah, he loves the carbs. That’s probably why he’s so huge.” She grinned and wandered away.
I kept silent, and Rhys met my stare, continuing to stand near me. Even with all the patrons in the bright little dining room, I had an odd compulsion to run my hand up his firm, jean-clad thigh. I wasn’t the kind of person who picked people up in restaurants, but I couldn’t help wishing I was more assertive that way. It might have been nice to have someone like him for a diversion while I was stuck here, but odds were he was straight.
“You must have kids. You seemed so relaxed with that little…boy.” I’d almost said creature.
“I don’t have kids. But I would love to one day.” He laughed, and the warmth of it washed over me. “I’m going to take a wild guess you aren’t yearning for a child of your very own.”
I grimaced. “Not really.”
For some reason he wasn’t leaving. He just kept hovering, and I was having the oddest reaction to his nearness. It almost felt like hunger. I racked my brain; how would a normal person behave? Would it be weird to ask him to join me? I enjoyed a flash fantasy of touching his hands, so near to me, and stroking the fine, dark hairs on his wrist. Instead, I sipped my soup self-consciously.
“So, you said you’re not staying permanently. But how long are you going to be here?” he asked, apparently in no hurry to get away.
“I’ll be here a couple of weeks for sure. Maybe longer. My mother passed, and I’m seeing about selling the house and things like that.”
“Yeah, I heard about your mom. My condolences.”
I didn’t say anything. I’m sure that wasn’t the normal response, but I couldn’t seem to drum up feelings on the matter. Or maybe I had too many feelings, and I wasn’t capable of processing them on the spot. I only knew she’d made my life a living hell. When I thought of her, it wasn’t grief that surged; it was anxiety mixed with resentment. I was a grown man, but if I was honest with myself, her death gave me a tiny bit of relief. She couldn’t hurt me anymore. I don’t know, maybe that made me seem odd, or heartless, but the awful reality was we hadn’t cared about each other when she was alive, so why start pretending now?
“Do you know when the funeral will be?” he asked.
I had a momentary thrill at the idea of running into him again, but unless I was going to hold a fake burial, there would be no opportunity for that. “She’s being cremated.”
He nodded. “Will you still have a memorial service of some sort?”
I guess that was what the average son would do, hold a poignant service and invite all our friends and family to wax poetic about what a wonderful wife and mother she’d been. However, we didn’t have any friends or family anywhere that I knew of. But most importantly Beatrice Johnson had been a horrible, heartless bitch of a woman, and there was no fucking way I would spend another dime or moment of my life on her memory. Not exactly something I was going to share with Rhys.
“No.” It was, after all, the truth.
Fortunately his phone buzzed in his pocket, and he pulled it out before sliding his thumb along its face. “Work, sorry.” He smiled, looking back to me. “It was great seeing you again, Cory. Hopefully I’ll see you around before you leave.” His voice was like velvet, and he started to say something else but stopped. Then he smiled and walked away and out of the restaurant.