Available May 12, 2009
When Jordan Jensen moves to St. Nacho’s he has one goal in mind. Starting over. He wants to reconnect with best friends Cooper and Shawn, yet is uncertain of his welcome. He has the skills to get a job, but isn’t sure any prospective employer can get past the time he spent in jail for an alcohol-related death. He’s past the worst part of his life, but knows it will haunt him forever. Jordan plans a life of quiet service. One thing he knows: finding love is entirely too much to ask.
On the first day of his new job, Jordan meets Ken Ashton. Ken has every reason to hate Jordan for his past and only one to seek him out. For some reason he can’t explain, Ken needs Jordan’s touch. Ken finds healing within Jordan’s warmth and strength. Jordan wants to give Ken everything he needs. Without entirely understanding it, Ken and Jordan develop a powerful emotional and erotic connection, but Ken must help Jordan find the faith to trust it. Unexpected help comes from the people of Santo Ignacio–and the town itself–a place where Physical Therapy can be a path toward spiritual healing and love.
Ken barked a laugh and oh, shit, how I liked the sound of it. I was so glad to be the guy who made it happen. “You’ll love the living room; it has a sweet fireplace. The kitchen isn’t big enough to hold a spaghetti pot.”
“Can you afford to buy a house?” I asked. “Think about if you don’t have a roommate, or if one stiffs you.” He raised his eyebrows at me. “For the rent.”
“Ah. Well, I have money from the insurance settlement, and that will make my monthly mortgage just about…nothing.” His eyes lit up for a minute. “Did I mention this house is going dirt cheap? There’s still the cost of fixing it up. I’ll play the invalid card and get lots of small town compassion in the form of free labor.”
Little by little, his enthusiasm persuaded me. There was no reason that he shouldn’t buy himself a house if he wanted one. No reason he shouldn’t want to fix it up and live there or rent it or sell it or burn it down. We walked to the living room together, and something scuttled across the floor. Lots of somethings. Burning the place down started looking like a really good idea. I tried hard to keep myself from reacting, but my skin was crawling so I shuddered.
“Yeah, it’s…lived in.”
“I wonder if it’s haunted too. That’d be like hitting the real estate trifecta, wouldn’t it? It’s falling down around your ears, it’s infested with…crawling things…and when you least expect it, the walls will drip blood.”
He watched my face intently. “You like it!” he said after a second or so, looking triumphant. “You like it and you’re covering it up with disdain.”
“How could you tell?” I turned away. I was still trying for disdain, but if the truth were to be told, I actually almost cracked a smile. “The place is completely hopeless.”
“So am I,” he said softly, coming up so quietly behind me that I wasn’t even aware of it until I felt his breath on my neck. His solid presence at my back sparked a host of erotic images in my mind that made my breathing quicken. Yeah. Yes. If he’d put his arms around me and pushed me to the ground I’d have gone willingly. When he spoke again I got goosebumps along my arms. “But I think you like me too.”
I froze. “That probably isn’t a good thing.”
“It is for the house,” he pointed out. “It is for me.”
I stepped away on the pretext of studying the fireplace closely, leaning over and tugging at the vent in the flue to see if it worked. Things I didn’t want to even think about fell onto my arm, feathers and great balls of fur and dust, and I jumped back in dismay, knocking Ken off his feet. We both landed on the hard floor, and I hope it was my imagination that I heard a kind of crisp, sickening exoskeleton crunch sound under my ass.
“If I don’t get out of here right this second I’m going to start screaming,” I said.
“Is that a no?” I stood and pulled him to his feet. On what I suspect was the phony pretext of catching his balance, he grabbed for my shoulders and pulled me flush against him. For a minute I was too stunned to react; by the time I got my bearings, his arousal was as obvious as mine. I hung there, caught between two impulses, grinding against him, all the while eyeing the open front door as my only means of escape. When he lowered his head to kiss me I thought of a thousand reasons why I wasn’t good enough for him and broke contact, leaving him puzzled, I guess, in the middle of the living room alone.
Once I was back in the fresh air, I took a deep breath. I wasn’t going to mention what happened if he didn’t, but I wasn’t going to be able to stop thinking about it either. He maneuvered down the porch steps carefully and not for the first time I wanted to call the irony police and turn myself in. Ken was hot. He burned me up with those blue eyes of his and then played in the ashes. I was totally fucked.
“Ken I think moving in with you is the worst idea I’ve ever heard for a lot of different reasons. And that house is a total nightmare.”
“So the answer is no?” I hated the way he didn’t look me in the eye. I wanted him to trust me. I wanted him to laugh again. I wanted to answer all of his questions, both spoken and implicit, with a resounding yes.
“I want to think about this. It’s still a long way from even being yours. You need to think carefully about it as well. I can’t promise I’ll move in here with you. I can’t promise that in the long run you’ll want me to. But if you get this house, if you move in, and if you ask me to, you have my word that I’ll work as hard as I can, as often as I can, to help you make it habitable.”
“Promise me you won’t sign a lease with anyone else in the meantime,” Ken said suddenly. “At least give us a chance.”
“Us? You and the Norman Bates Motel there?”
“Yes. We’re both fixer-uppers and we both need friends.” We stood looking back at the dismal little place for a minute. I sneaked a look at his face. In profile it was strong and resigned and hopeful. He clenched his jaw, and I could practically see the wheels turning as he made plans in his head. This was Ken attacking a college course or hitting a slider or climbing the tallest mountain in the world. I knew right then he could do anything, and I would probably kill to be by his side when he did it.
“I am your friend.” I put my hand on his arm, just below the place where his crutch cinched his forearm. The muscle was rock hard, and I felt a little thrill hit me, traveling from my fingers right to my dick, as his muscle flexed when he began to walk.
“That’s a start.” He headed for the car. “I’ll make all the necessary calls. You just get a tool belt, preferably one of those leather jobs that hangs low on your hips, a hardhat, and a pair of work boots.” He unlocked the car door and tossed his crutches into the back seat. As he climbed up next to me, he turned on that impossibly engaging smile again. “And it would be twice as nice if that’s all you wear.”
“You haven’t even told your family yet, have you?”
“Then don’t start counting your naked handymen yet. I have a feeling you’ll run into more opposition there than you’ve bargained for.”
“Probably. But it’s a funny thing. Sometimes when you feel like you have nothing left, you also realize you have nothing to lose.” He pulled up a few minutes later in front of Day-Use, and just let his SUV idle to let me out
“You can always lose more,” I said grimly, but I put my hand on his. “I am your friend.”
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to hear it,” he said sincerely. His eyes told me he was thinking about kissing me again. “Really, really glad.”
I left the car and he pulled out of the parking lot. He didn’t look back or wave, but for some reason I watched him until he was completely out of sight. It was hard to think clearly when I looked at his face; it was always such a mixture of hope and dismay, dignity and playful self-deprecation. Sometime, I wanted to ask Izzie about his state of mind. I wanted to ask Izzie about a lot of things. Had she known he considered himself gay? Is that why she had told him I was? Was she matchmaking?
I went back into the gym and went right to work, giving the men’s bathroom a good disinfecting and wipe down. I was using bleach wipes on the weight benches when a group of firefighters came in to work out with free weights.
I left them to it and looked for Izzie to see if there was anything specific she wanted me to do. I found her in her tiny office working on her laptop. As I got closer, I heard the unmistakable sounds of the game “Portal.”
“Giving the brain a workout?” I asked.
“If you must know –” She broke off and stared at me for a whole minute before I looked behind me to see if there was something there.
“What?” I asked her.
“What, what?” She was still staring.
“You’re staring at me.” I crossed my arms. “Are you trying to freak me out? ‘Cause it’s working.”
“Of course not,” she said, humming a little. “I was just enjoying your aura.”
“Right, my aura.” I still wasn’t ready to admit that I believed in such things.
“You are currently emanating a rich cerulean blue with spikes of vibrant pink. Just so you know.”
“And what does that mean?” I asked, neatly caught by curiosity in general and a certain tendency to believe the worst, specifically.
“I don’t know. It’s a color combination I often associate with people falling in love. And, oddly enough” — she looked back at her computer and grinned like a stupid person — “I saw it just today on someone else… What was his name again? Oh yeah. Ken Ashton