Authors: Caitlin Ricci
Tags: #gay romance
By Caitlin Ricci
A Thornwood Novel
Wanting to start over after breaking off a relationship with his married boss, Caleb Robinson is happy to move from Los Angeles to Thornwood, Colorado. He can barely find the town on a map, which is just the kind of place Caleb needs. He’s not looking for a relationship, and Thornwood looks to be the perfect place to get lost in his art. But when Thornwood’s local police officer, Trent Williams, knocks on Caleb’s front door, both men have an instant attraction to each other, and Caleb’s plans for solitude might have to change.
But he soon learns that Trent is a legendary one-night-stand man for a very special reason. His boyfriend has been kept on life support for the past five years after a serious skiing accident. Even though Simon isn’t expected to wake up and Trent says he’s trying to get past him, he won’t entertain anything that comes close to commitment. As compelling as their attraction is, Caleb doesn’t want to be just another hook-up, and he won’t be the other man. But Trent isn’t sure he can risk the pain of losing someone else he cares about, no matter how intense the chemistry between him and Caleb.
This one goes out to my best friend and biggest supporter, my husband, Scott. I love you, babe.
Welcome to Thornwood, Colorado. Please enjoy your stay.
up from unpacking the box at my feet at the sound of the doorbell ringing. It was a soft chime, which I was glad about because I hadn’t thought to check it before deciding to buy the house. When the bell sounded again, I straightened up and instantly grabbed at my lower back. There was some rule about not bending over boxes and lifting with my legs instead of my bad back, but I’d apparently forgotten my doctor’s orders in the move. I’d be paying for that by sundown, I was sure. I hurried to answer it, checked the peephole, and decided to open the heavy wooden door anyway, despite my better judgement. The kitchen was close, and I was pretty sure I’d managed to unpack the knives already if the cop on the other side of the door ended up being some kind of backwoods small-town Colorado murderer or something.
“Can I help you, officer?” I asked. I tried not to pay attention to how cute he was, which was damn hard given his smile. I was always a sucker for a good smile. And a cup of coffee just like the one he extended toward me.
“Hey. I’m Trent, and please don’t call me ‘officer’ unless I’m arresting you. Everyone calls me by my first name.”
I accepted the coffee and held it up so I could sniff it. I am fairly certain I sighed because he grinned at me like he was trying not to laugh. “Sorry.” I was blushing pretty badly, judging by how warm the tops of my ears felt. “I haven’t unpacked my coffee machine yet. Thanks for this. Is there something wrong?” I asked, because in Los Angeles cops didn’t randomly come to my door unless there was trouble. I’d only been in Thornwood a day, and now I had a cop at my door. My sister, Marie, would probably love to know what kind of trouble I’d managed to get myself into so soon.
Trent shook his head, his hat slipping a little, and I was momentarily distracted by his dark hair. It was the color of chocolate, which, like my coffee, I hadn’t unpacked either. I’d barely managed to get a towel out for my shower that morning after making sure my books were out on the bookshelf. “Nothing’s wrong. Why? Do you think there is?”
I shrugged and sipped the coffee. Cream and sugar, which I could handle, though I normally took it black. At least he hadn’t grabbed me a latte or something else that would put me in a sugar coma before lunch. “There’s a cop on my front porch,” I pointed out, as if my concerns needed to be explained.
“Oh!” Understanding seemed to come to him instantly. “Oh, no. I’m not here because you did something. Unless you did?”
“Not that I know of,” I replied, wondering what he was doing there if it wasn’t because of something I’d done.
Trent smiled at me. “Then you’re fine. I just wanted to come here and introduce myself. Meet the new neighbor kind of thing.”
“Yeah. It’s a small town. So….” He shifted his weight as he leaned back on his heels. “You waiting on your family to move here too?”
I shook my head and knew why he was asking that. I’d bought a massive house, because I’d wanted to and had been able to afford it after the settlement from a car accident. But I’d probably be getting the family question fairly often until people got over their curiosity about the new guy in town. “Nope. Just me.”
“None of those either.”
He frowned at me and turned to look over the barn and pastures that had come with the property. “You know you bought a horse farm, right?”
I laughed and took another sip of the coffee. It really was nice of him to bring it for me. “Yeah. I know. You want to come in or something?”
It was the first time I’d ever actually invited a cop into my home, not that I’d ever had anything to hide, but in LA I used to get told about probable cause and warrants all the time from my neighbors. It had been normal conversation over getting the mail. I hadn’t been living in the best neighborhood at the time.
Trent chewed on his bottom lip, and damn I wanted to kiss him, but that would have been insanity. He shook his head as he stopped messing with his lip, and I got a break from thinking about kissing him for a bit. “Thanks, but I should probably be getting to work. Here’s my number, in case you need something.” He dug a business card out of his pocket and put his coffee down on my porch to write his number on it.
I took the card, though I wasn’t too sure why I did so. It wasn’t like I’d be calling him or anything. “Don’t you have 911 up here?” Thornwood couldn’t possibly have been so tiny that the emergency services required me calling Trent up.
“Yeah, we’ve got 911. Where’d you think you moved to? Antarctica or something?”
He smiled again, and I barely managed to shrug while I stood there staring at him like a dumbass. Damn but he was cute in that navy-blue uniform. I wanted to see him out of it.
“Just call. And what’s your name? I don’t think I caught it.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t say it. Caleb Robinson.”
“See you later, Caleb,” he told me as I stepped back, ready to close the door.
He lifted his coffee to salute me, I did the same, and then he turned on his heel and went down the curving path through my front yard to where his police car was parked next to my very old and quite rusty SUV. Which, I realized a minute after he began pulling away, had expired tags. Damn. I tensed up, waiting for him to notice, but he didn’t stop. Instead he just waved to me, I waved back at him, and then he was gone, and I went back to my morning of unpacking boxes and trying to move stuff around.
I’d never had a house this big, with five bedrooms and three bathrooms. A dozen acres spread around me, and I had no plans for any of it. Mostly I’d just wanted to get away from LA, from my life there, from everything that reminded me of that place.
I hadn’t always hated it, though. I was a graphic designer, and I liked the busy lifestyle and the colors there. But dating my married boss had sort of put a damper on my love affair with the city.
My phone rang, and I hurried over to it, expecting to hear from my sister sometime that day, and instead seeing a familiar name staring back at me. “Hi.” I swallowed thickly. “I didn’t think I’d hear from you again.”
“Hey. How’s life in the mountains?” Paul asked. I’d had two months away from him, two months since I’d last been in his bed, since I’d last told him I loved him. I could still feel the scrape of his teeth on my collarbone and his fingertips digging into my hips as he fucked me.
“Thornwood isn’t really in the mountains. More like the foothills,” I said. I tried to keep things casual, to keep my voice light. But when I looked down at my hand on the island, I saw I was gripping it so hard my knuckles were white. I stepped back and shook out my hand. “I thought we’d agreed not to talk again.”
“I know we did. But that was then and this is now. You’ve had some time to cool off. Give me another chance. I want to talk to you again. Why won’t you let me?”
I sighed and flopped down on the couch, a foldout sofa bed monster I’d had since college, and looked out at the pine trees just beyond the huge windows that had made me fall in love with the house as soon as I walked in.
“Because….” I struggled to come up with a reasonable explanation that I hadn’t already told him, but since there wasn’t one, I went with the first. It hadn’t worked last year when I tried to break it off with him though, so I wasn’t sure why I brought it up again. “Because you were never going to leave your wife for me.”
I heard Paul slam something, and this time I didn’t jump, like I’d done all the time back in LA. “Caleb, you knew that. From the start of this, you knew I wasn’t going to leave her. Her father owns the design firm. He pays my salary. He paid yours. My life would have been over if I’d left her.”
I knew all of this, having heard it many times in the past. We’d been together for a while, nearly three years, and I thought I loved him. He’d said it often enough to me as well.
“Look, I’ll be coming through Denver next month to meet with some new clients. Can I see you?”
There was so much hope in his voice, and I was tempted to give in, to tell him that he could come over, that I’d be waiting right here for him like I always was. But this was a new start for me. I’d chosen to move, to get on with my life, and I’d done it in a big way. I hadn’t simply quit my job, or moved to a place he hadn’t been in; I moved to another state. Another time zone even.
“I don’t think so. Not this time,” I said. And I was proud of myself for saying no, just this once. That had taken a lot for me to be able to do.
I closed my eyes, then pinched the bridge of my nose. But my glasses got in the way and I ended up stabbing the little plastic pads into the corners of my eyes instead. Glasses were a new experience for me since more often than not I wore my contacts, but I hadn’t felt like putting them in this morning when my eyes were so dry from the Colorado air. I desperately needed to pick up a humidifier to fix that.
“Because it’s not a good idea. Because I’m not going to be the other man again. Not anymore. The sex was good, but I can’t do it anymore. I want a real relationship and not one that involves being called into lunch meetings so you can get your dick sucked as I hide under the desk in case anyone happens to walk by.”
He laughed as if he thought I was joking. Too bad I wasn’t. At first it had been a little sexy, maybe, to have this kind of secret thing going on. I wasn’t some innocent, naive person, though. I’d known who he was, and who his wife was, the first time we kissed while working late on a project. But somehow I’d been dumb enough to believe that he’d eventually realize I was better for him than she was. I hadn’t taken into account how much more he loved his money than he cared about either her or me apparently.
“I’m being serious,” I told him when he was still laughing at my nonexistent joke.
That shut him up quickly. “Oh. Well, why don’t I come visit you, and we can see how we work out like that? You could be my Colorado love affair.”
Saying no to that was easy, but the way he offered it made me wonder something. I should have asked it a long time ago, but I hadn’t, and I wasn’t sure why. Maybe I’d been too scared, too worried about the answer to find out for sure. But that wasn’t the case any longer. “How many other men were you having sex with while we were together?” I asked in a clipped tone, because I was sure I wasn’t the only one. Not with how he so easily suggested that I be his Colorado affair, like he had a guy waiting for him in every state. He likely did actually.
“Caleb…. C’mon, you know it’s not like that. You were special to me. You still are.”
“How many others?” I asked. “More than ten? More than twenty?”
He took a long time answering me. “Thirty-six, I guess. I haven’t really kept track.”
“Jesus fucking Christ!” I suddenly felt really ill, and I was glad I’d been getting tested regularly for all of my adult life.
“Caleb, that’s just a number. You know they didn’t mean anything to me. They—”
I shook my head. “Paul, stop. It’s over. It was over between us when I quit my job, it was over when your wife hit me with her car after finding out about us, it was over when I left California, and it sure as hell is over now! Don’t try to call me again. I won’t pick up. Just… damn. Go get some help or something. Bye.”
I hung up my phone before he could say anything else to me, and I was glad I had, because soon enough I was bent over my toilet heaving up the coffee Trent had brought me, which was the only thing I’d bothered to have so far that morning. Lucky for me.
After my throw-up session, I desperately needed a hot shower too. I couldn’t believe it. Well, actually I probably could. Paul was smooth and slick like a model in a magazine. I’d been falling all over myself around him since the first time he touched my hand when I went in for an interview.