by Cassie Stevens
Contemporary Romance Novella – M/M
Cover Art © Dar Albert
Seth Foster’s biggest mistake wasn’t being in Jason’s arms…it was running from them. After all, running and hiding are what Seth does best. Running down a football field, hiding from the world and himself what he truly feels inside. He thought tearing down the old house would purge the memories. He didn’t realize buying the place would bring Jason Gentry back into his life.
Jason Gentry purged the heartbreak and all the anger that came with it years ago. It comes rushing back at the first sight of Seth standing before the old house. So does ache and want…and Jason’s determination to see the house restored, to show Seth some things are worth saving. It doesn’t take Jason long to realize that the thing that needs restoring the most is Seth. How can Jason give Seth what he most needs without further losing his heart in the process?
Jason has one night to reintroduce Seth to the life he never should have denied. One night to remember forever. If you love someone, let them go…right? Yeah, right…then run the other way before heartbreak catches you.
NOTE: This was previously published as Best Laid Plans with another publisher.
Jason hadn’t been fully prepared for the impact of seeing Seth face-to-face. Sure he looked just as great in person as he did on ESPN. Faced with reality, Seth appeared haunted. Jason had learned to read people well. Seth was no exception, though Jason wished he were. In the life he’d built, Seth could hide. But not here, not standing before this house, and certainly not standing next to Jason. Vulnerability seeped from his pores. One word, one touch, would tip Seth over the edge. God only knew what would happen then.
It killed Jason not to wrap a hug around him, not to bury his face in Seth’s neck and inhale him. Killed him almost as much to admit that. He’d thought he’d banished all those hurts years ago, written them to death. Yet the moment he’d learned Seth had put a bid on the old Jefferson place, it all came rushing back. Jason wanted him to hurt, even if it was only his wallet. Still that hadn’t satisfied him. He’d needed to come here and taunt. He hadn’t expected to come here and want. But God how he did. Seeing the torment on Seth’s face intensified that want, turning it into a raw, feral need Jason couldn’t deny…and couldn’t fully act on without scaring off his intended target. It didn’t help either that Seth looked so damn good.
You’ve been writing too long. Jason hid a smile. He couldn’t help the grand comparisons. Writing was his life and it colored everything he did, said, and felt.
The bald look definitely worked for Seth. Jason’s dick had agreed the second he’d seen him. Jason wanted to slide his hand over Seth’s head, then ride those shoulder muscles down to his biceps, latch on, and kiss him hard. Aggression might not be a wise course of action. Though Jason still topped Seth by two inches, Seth had bulked up to two hundred twenty pounds of raw muscle and power. He could snap Jason like a pretzel. All the lean muscle Jason built from running and working out wouldn’t protect him. The danger made him want Seth all the more.
His erection raged unabated. Right now Jason didn’t care who noticed. He knew it wouldn’t be Seth. That would be admitting something Seth had spent too many years denying.
Sadness crept into Jason’s heart. To have lived like Seth had, hiding the truth even from himself. Now Seth stood before this house, ready to kill what he considered the beast for the memories Seth couldn’t escape. It would change nothing. Somehow, Jason had to get Seth to see that. No matter how much he’d wished the house gone over the years. Every time he’d looked at it, Jason remembered that night all over again, and all the agony that came after.
He forced happy to the surface. “You’ve got the key. Let’s go.” The gate’s creak echoed against the houses across the street, startling blackbirds and sparrows from the trees. Kids who trespassed knew to hop the fence and go around the back.
Though Seth paused, he slipped his hand into his trouser pocket. Jason shot a glance in that direction, sucking in a soft breath at the sight of Seth’s erection ridging the black trousers that looked custom-made. Jason envied the tailor who’d measured his inseam.
“Don’t,” Seth snapped.
Jason dragged his gaze away. “Sorry. Accident. Saw you dig for keys.” Look at me and you’ll see the same. “Just pretend it was a locker room peek.”
A dark red flushed Seth’s face. “We do not peek at each other in the locker room.” Anger flared his nostrils and shaded his green eyes with gray.
“Wrong. You don’t peek at other men in the locker room.” That’d be leading himself down his forbidden path. “All the etiquette in the world isn’t going to stop an inadvertent peek now and then. It can’t be helped.”
“There was nothing inadvertent about what you were doing. And it sure as hell wasn’t a peek.” Seth yanked his keys from his pocket. “Are we going to do this or not?”
An open-ended question if ever he’d heard one. Jason left it alone. “After you.” He swept his arm, inviting Seth to proceed.
Seth took one step, then stopped. “Me first? So you can ogle my ass?”
Jason couldn’t help laughing. “The thought hadn’t occurred to me. But sure. Why not? It’d be nice to see it in person again, not running down a football field on TV. Though high-def big-screen does have its benefits.”
Seth narrowed his eyes. “You’ve watched my games?”
“You know how much I like football. Why would that change because—”You tore out my heart and flung it into the end zone. “Why would that change?”
Seth jiggled the keys as he seemed to consider Jason’s response. If he was looking for more, Jason couldn’t give it to him. He loved sports. Always had, always would. Their relationship, or lack thereof, wasn’t going to change that.
“I haven’t read any of your books,” Seth said.
That almost sounded like an apology. Jason wouldn’t diminish the confession by clarifying he watched football, not Seth. “Suspense isn’t for everyone.” He shrugged. “I also find it very difficult to read books from those authors I’m close to.”
Seth nodded and stepped through the gate, taking the lead, keys rattling all the way. Jason couldn’t help it. He looked at Seth’s tight ass. The trousers displayed it to perfection.
“You checking out my ass?” Seth asked over his shoulder.
Jason laughed. “Absolutely.”
A hint of a smile tugged up the corner of his mouth. “I figured I’d throw you a bone.”
“On behalf of gay men everywhere, I thank you.” Yes, he’d been out for years and was damn proud of it.
He drew up beside Seth on the narrow brick path. Grass choked the edges, replacing any mortar that once held it together.
“Dandelions have taken over the front yard.” Seth waved a pointed finger toward them as he stepped onto the first step. The weathered wood groaned under his weight.
“Buttercups have taken over the back.” Jason tried to put a positive spin on what was a landscaping nightmare. He waited to see if the steps would hold Seth, then dared to trot ahead and open what remained of the screen door. It fell off the hinges and would have knocked him in the head if not for Seth’s quick reflexes.
“I’ll add that to the list of things that need to be done.” Jason set the door against the side of the house.
Seth shot him a look from the corner of his eye. “It’d be a shorter list if you wrote down what doesn’t need to be done.” He thrust the ancient key into the rusted lock and twisted. “Feels weird to go in the front.” The lock didn’t budge. “No wonder no one’s tried to go this way.”
Jason leaned against the house, grimacing when splinters pierced his shoulder. “You could bust through. You’ve faced bigger obstacles on the field.”
“And ruin the one thing that works? This is oak. It’s not going anywhere.” He grimaced and turned the key harder. Nothing. Then metal clunked into place. Odd how exciting that little victory felt.
“How long since you were in here?” Seth asked.
“Can’t remember.” A lie. Jason had returned here all too often. He’d go to the room where he and Seth had crossed the line from friendship to lovers, lovers to… He didn’t know how to describe that. He’d stand in that second-floor bedroom and weep for his loss, then go home and beat off to the memory of them entwined on the sleeping bags they’d thrown over the old bed. College and adulthood had given him some reason, that and the spent condoms he’d found from others’ liaisons. Though the temptation to jerk off in the house was hard to fight.
He pressed his hand against Seth’s back. Muscle flexed beneath his palm, but Seth didn’t shake him off.
“Go on,” Jason urged. “Open her up.”
Copyright © Cassie Stevens