Friday, 12 February 2016

Valentine Delights: Close Your Eyes

Valentine Delights

I have a short story in the free anthology released from Love Lane Books.

Release date: 12th February 2016

Love Lane Books presents Valentine Delights, a collection of short stories celebrating love. It will be available free from All Romance eBooks.

Download links: Love Lane : 

Something Beginning With 'V ' by Alex Jane

Spending the night stuck in the executive elevator with Elliot, his assistant, wasn’t exactly how Daniel had imagined celebrating February 14th.

Still, it could have been worse.

He could have been in love with Elliot for the past two years.

Oh, wait…


Up in the Air by George Loveland

Flight Attendant Daniel thought that he was just swapping his flight to save his friend’s job. What he didn’t expect was that fate had other ideas, and he would find himself falling for the blue eyed passenger sitting in 14D.


Cupid's Spark by Jenny Blackburn

On call techie, Brady, doesn't hesitate to leave his group's annual Valentine gaming weekend for an out-of-hours job helping hot University student, Dale, with computer issues. A broken computer, he can handle. How will he handle a broken heart when the guy he has been crushing on seems to be hot for someone else?


Wings of Love by A Russo

The smallest, newest angel longs to earn his name and his halo and impress Zaphiel, the leader of the cherubs, by performing an amazing feat. Disappointed to be given a job as a Valentine’s Day cherub, he soon learns that sometimes the smallest battles make the biggest difference.


Cupid in a Stroller by Avery Duran

When candy store owner Reese Thornton needs a break from the Valentine’s Day rush, a walk seems like a good idea. His day appears to pick up when he sees the man of his dreams pushing a cat in a stroller. Unfortunately, Reese does not have a working brain-to-mouth filter, and Mr. Right finds Reese to be Mr. Wrong. When their paths cross again, will he be able to hold onto Gideon, or will Cupid’s arrow miss them both?


It Feels Like... by Jenny Blackburn

Sharing a table and witty banter with a sexy stranger in a crowded cafe could be the jump start Ben's love life needs. Jesse ticks all his 'dream man' attributes, but sensible Ben refuses to risk his heart without careful consideration and vetting from trusted acquaintances. Jesse seems determined to change Ben's mind and maybe his secret will tip the balance in his favour...


Smack Happy by Clare London

(a With A Kick short)

Phiz can’t always control his hyperactivity and propensity for chaos. But he no longer has to feel marginalised because of it, not now he has Bryan for a friend and lover. Bryan’s calm, ordered attitude is the perfect foil for Phiz: and Bryan’s private desire for kink is just what Phiz needs to keep him grounded. This Valentine’s Day, Phiz wants to give Bryan a special gift, but Bryan can’t be tempted away from his work. At least, not until he opens Phiz’s gift and realises love means… taking time away to play.


Sauce for the Goose by Charlie Cochrane

(a Cambridge Fellows Mystery)

Think Agatha Christie meets Oscar Wilde.

If the men of St. Bride’s College knew what Jonty Stewart and Orlando Coppersmith got up to behind closed doors, the scandal would rock early-20th-century Cambridge to its core. But the truth is, when they’re not busy teaching literature and mathematics, the most daring thing about them isn’t their love for each other—it’s their hobby of amateur sleuthing.

Because wherever Jonty and Orlando go, trouble seems to find them. Sunny, genial Jonty and prickly, taciturn Orlando may seem like opposites. But their balance serves them well as they sift through clues to crimes, and sort through their own emotions to grow closer. But at the end of the day, they always find the truth . . . and their way home together.


Close Your Eyes by Sue Brown

Jacob spends his Valentine’s Day with memories of his dead lover, until one rainy day Daniel skids into his life. Daniel offers Jacob the chance to live again, but is Jacob brave enough to close his eyes and risk his heart?


The Heart Outside by RJ Scott

Set four years after the end of Texas Wedding, the boys escape on Valentine’s for a night in a hotel, where Jack has a present for Riley that will stay with both of them forever.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

LR Cafe Nominations

I'm thrilled to say I've been nominated for three LR Cafe awards. Thank you so much! 
The voting begins on Tuesday the 16th and run to the 20th Feb.

Best Author

Morning My Angel:

I'm sure you know this but Meredith Russell rocks!!

She's made me a cover for Morning My Angel. I'm hoping this will give me lots of inspiration to get this comedy/thriller written.

Here's an unedited excerpt.

As expected the message pops up as soon as I log on.
Morning Angel.
Quickly I type a greeting in return.
Morning Charlie.
Anything further will have to wait until I’ve had my fifth cup of coffee. He knows that now.
Of course, my name’s not Angel and his isn’t Charlie but if we want to greet each other like we’re relics from a seventies show then it’s no one’s business but ours.
I smile at the computer and wander off to find more coffee. It’s just gone nine in the morning and I’m just about to drink cup four. This will elevate me from zombie to almost human. Yes, I will talk a lot about coffee. I’m addicted and if you’re one of these ‘green tea plucked from the Himalayas only on a full moon in a month beginning with Z’ types we’re probably not going to get on. I like my coffee black and strong, just like my dog.
I know what you thought I was going to say but you’re wrong. I don’t give a fuck if my men are built. If you think picking me up and banging me against a wall is a sign of a real man you can think again. ‘Sides, I can probably put you on the floor before you lay on finger on me.
“Morning, Darryl.” I paste on my brightest smile for the man who walks past me.
Darryl mutters at me as he walks past. Darryl doesn’t like me much. It’s mutual. The guy’s a dick at the best of times but he’s the best decoder we’ve got so I leave him alone. 
I sigh in relief as I down half the coffee in three swallows and top up my mug full to the brim.
“You’ve got no time to drink that. Conference room now!” Dominic Cook, the coordinator, stalks past, his usual frown pasted to his face.
I take another swallow, fill the mug again and follow him at a leisurely pace, admiring Dominic’s tight ass. There’s no point rushing. Landry and Gill will take six minutes and forty-five seconds to arrive from two floors up. I know their routine. I pull a face. Meetings all morning. No time to talk to Charlie. Morning Angel was all I was gonna get until crisis 5440 was over. You think I’m joking about the number? I log each and every single one in a folder labelled Full English. Why yes, I am OCD. Thank you for noticing.
The usual suspects take their place in conference room 1.  Dominic who coordinates the operations. A red-head with a vile temper and an eye for detail that makes me green with envy.
Landry and Gil, the muscle. Tall, black twins. Da-yam. Darryl. You’ve met him already. Ryan Winslow, the accountant. Blond, sharp. If we can’t afford it he won’t let us do it.
And me.
Jimmi Fortune. At your service. Thirty-four. Dark hair, brown eyes, I don’t break mirrors. The brains of the agency.
Dominic glares at us until we all sit down. We all sit in our usual positions. I lean back and stick my feet up on the table, crossing them at the ankles. Landry knocks them down before Dominic explodes. I think about doing it again but decide against it. Instead I look around the table and wonder which one of them is Charlie. Landry and Gil have girlfriends. Gil likes dating models. Landry’s girl is half his height and twice as scary. Dominic has a wife – supposedly. None of us have ever seen her. Darryl likes men. I send up a plea to the goddess, Farrah Fawcett, that Darryl is not my Charlie.
Yeah, that’s right. I’ve been talking to this man for two years since I joined the agency, and I still don’t know who Charlie is. I’ll find him. He knows I’ll find him. But in the meantime we’ll play each other’s game.
“If you’re ready to do your job, Mr. Fortune,” Dominic snaps.
I slurp my coffee loudly and give him a condescending wave.
Dominic scowls and taps at the iPad on the table. The screen springs into life showing the round face of middle-age man, balding on the top and grey around the edges.
“Who is he?” Landry asks. Six minutes older and half an inch taller than his twin he is shy in a public situation but he’s the one with all the questions. It’s easy to underestimate Landry. I don’t.
“Jonathan Michaels,” Dominic says. “Entrepreneur. Now an investor in London. He’s gone missing.”
Gil taps the table. “So why’re we involved?”
The agency didn’t work missing persons’ cases.
“Because he’s a friend of a friend,” Dominic says. “We have to find him before Scotland Yard or the FBI do.”
“We don’t do cases for friends,” Landry says in a flat tone. “Company policy.”
Dominic inclines his head. “Normally yes, but not this time. He’s insisted.”
He is the boss. Him upstairs. The owner of the agency and generally a sleeping tiger who only emerges when we screw up. Which isn’t often.
He has a name - Callum David Ross - but we never use it, calling him ‘He’ or CDR.
From the way the twins are scowling they’re about to say something stupid, so I decide to get down to business. “When did he disappear?”
“Three weeks ago. November 30th,” Dominic says. “He left the office at 9pm and never arrived home. The journey takes thirty minutes.”
“And we’re only just getting involved?” The agency usually gets involved within forty-eight hours. Three weeks was a long time in a K&R.
“Local LEOs thought he’d been in an accident. His car was found by the Thames but divers didn’t find a body. They contacted the embassy as he’s an American citizen. The FBI thought it was a kidnapping but no ransom demand has been made.”
So no kidnap and ransom. “Why us?”
“Because money has gone missing.” Darryl spoke for the first time. “A lot of money. From his clients’ accounts.”
“Michaels took the money?”
“That’s the general belief, yes.” Dominic’s frown intensifies. He seems personally pissed off about this case.
Landry leans back in his seat and slurps his coffee. “This sounds more like the FBI’s bag than ours. An executive skips off with the cash. Why isn’t their white collar division dealing with it?”
Dominic looks at Darryl who just shrugs. They’re having a whole unspoken conversation with their eyebrows – just the two of them. A fact which doesn’t go unnoticed by the rest of us.
“What are you not telling us?” Gil demands.
Dominic takes a long time to answer but finally he says, “Jonathan Michaels is a partner in this agency. If he isn’t found this agency is at risk.”
I snap my fingers. Jonathan Michaels. I thought I knew the name. The real silent partner of CDR. An old college buddy and extremely successful businessman, Jonathan had lent the money to him to start the business eight years ago. Now he was in trouble and therefore so was the agency. I tried not to process the thought that my job was at risk. “Where do we start?”
“I’ve sent you everything we already know about Michaels,” Dominic says. “You, Landry and Gil are booked on a flight to London this evening.”
“You’re not coming?” I raise an eyebrow. Dominic’s like a head louse. He never lets go.
“Not this time. I’m going to follow the trail this end. There’s no record of him entering the states but that don’t mean jack. You coordinate the London operation and report back to me. Darryl and I will stay here. The whole agency is working on this. Nothing else matters until we find Michaels, dead or alive.”
I finish my coffee and head for a refill. I have planning to do before we leave.
London. Could be worse.

Charlie pops up on screen just as I sit down. I’d swear he had a camera on me if I didn’t check for surveillance every day.
Going to London tonight.
I know.
Of course he does. He knows me. I don’t know him. He knows it drives me wild that I can’t track him down. He also knows it’s a turn-on.  Fucking bastard.
You coming too?
Not this time, Angel.
Shame. Away from home – you never know – the mice could have played. I swallow down the disappointment and scan through the information on Michaels.
There’s a long pause before he replies. It’s not unusual. Sometimes hours go between our replies.
I know.
I know? That was it? Geez, sound enthusiastic, why don’t you? I don’t bother to reply.
You’re sulking, Angel.
 I raise a finger at the screen and then realize he can’t see me.
Fuck off, Charlie.
You don’t mean that.
Yes, I do. Go away. Got work to do.
I’m going. Mustn’t disturb my Angel.
If there was one person I’d like to disturb me it was the mysterious Charlie.
Goodbye Angel. Don’t get into trouble.
‘Bye Charlie. I wasn’t making that promise.
I sigh and look at the face of Jonathan Michaels. “You’d better be worth it.”

Sunday, 7 February 2016

February Fiction 5: Kyle.1 Free Read

This is an AI story I've been thing about for a while. Here is the first chapter just as a taster.

Chapter 1

© Sue Brown

Kyle ran down the alleyway, dodged down the left of the house with the Great Dane statue in the garden and past old Mrs Baker’s house. He knew the alleyways like the back of his hand. He’d lived here for over a decade unlike the men chasing him so he had the home advantage. His heart pounded and blood rushed in his ears as he stumbled, recovered and ran on. But they had the guns. He was hopelessly outnumbered and out-classed unless he used his ultimate means of escape. Doubling-back along the narrow path, he vaulted over the short fence, across the grass praying the yappy dog was inside and over the other fence. Kyle landed on his feet, hissing as he twisted his right ankle. He stood and tested his weight, breathing a sigh of relief as the pain was bearable. He listened for a moment, hearing the noise of the men and dogs getting closer.
He ran down the other alley until he reached the gate-house with the tall leylandii. In his old life he’d passed the house a million times, wishing he’d lived there so he could chop down the trees and breathe some life into the place. Now he gave silent thanks as he slipped in the back gate which he knew would be unlocked. The stupid owners never locked it. If he kept close to the trees he could evade detection by the owners. He knew, he’d used their garden as cover before.
No time to recover. The men were the other side of the line of trees, their curses at losing him loud and angry. Using the trees as cover had a major disadvantage for Kyle. They couldn’t see him but he couldn’t see them either. If they had a tracker with them then it was game over. The trackers could sense an AI from a great distance. They were AI too. He just hoped and prayed this had been a random discovery, bad luck for him, but not the end.
“He’s got to be here somewhere. I saw the bastard run down this alley.”
Kyle closed his eyes. Now he knew for sure who was chasing him. Cartwright. He was fucked. He bit down on his bottom lip to hold back the nervous giggle that threatened to escape.
“We’ve checked everywhere, boss. Are you sure it was him?”  The second voice sounded like he was on the verge of passing out. Kyle took a grim satisfaction in making Cartwright’s men run hard.
“Course I’m fucking sure,” Cartwright growled.
“Do you want me to call in a tracker?” A third voice spoke, a woman, sounding cool and efficient.
Kyle forced himself not to panic. He knew Verna. She was more dangerous than Cartwright and Kyle never made the mistake of underestimating her.
“He’ll be gone by now,” Cartwright said. “We know he’s in the area. He’s got nowhere to go and no one’s going to hide him. No point calling the tracker now. Units 4, 5 and 6 can hunt this area. His luck’s got to run out sometime.” 
“I’ll get them here now,” Verna said.
“Vermin!” Cartwright spat and then they moved away.
Kyle waited, not moving, trying hard not to breathe. He didn’t trust them not to have had that conversation for his benefit.
The click told him he wasn’t alone. As did the cold metal pressed under his right ear. He froze, not even breathing. He’d so close been to escaping. Now he was dead.
“Who are you?” The man’s voice was low and hard.
“Kyle.1.” No point lying. His pale skin and blue rimmed eyes would give him away.
The man didn’t react at all but the weapon remained where it was. Kyle could smell him under the light woodsy cologne he wore.
“So those dicks are after you?”
The weapon didn’t waver and Kyle waited for the man to do one of two things; press the trigger or call out, attracting the attention of the boss. He did neither.
“Come with me.” The man took a step away and Kyle turned around cautiously to face him.
The man was a human. Kyle scanned him quickly. About thirty, mixed race, and still training the weapon on him.
“Where to?”
“Take your chances out there with them, or come with me.”
Kyle knew there was little chance of evading capture for more than another day or two. Cartwright was right. His luck couldn’t last forever. On the other hand he wasn’t happy about walking into an unknown situation.
“Your choice,” the man said calmly, lowering the gun.
“I still have self-destruct,” Kyle said. The ability to self-destruct was the only weapon he had but he wouldn’t hesitate to use it. The blast radius would kill everyone in the vicinity.
The man gave one nod. “Understood.” He turned on his heel, not waiting to see if Kyle followed him.
Kyle hesitated for a split-second before he followed the man into the house. Into the gate-house? He looked around the large kitchen, taking in the surveillance cameras and the shutters. What the hell?
“You live here?” he asked.
“Sometimes,” the man said cryptically.
“So the family that live here?” Kyle had seen the humans, a mum and dad, two teenage boys. He’d watched them with an envy as they lived their lives, oblivious to his life of fear and misery.
“Planted here to keep an eye on the area. We know you.”
Kyle stared at him. “The gate?”
“Is open for a reason. If you had been anyone else you wouldn’t have left again. Coffee?”
“You’re not going to kill me?”
The man snorted and picked up the kettle. “Not yet.”
“But I’m a Kyle.”
Kyles were obsolete now and dangerous to humans. They were to be destroyed on sight. That was the law. Humans had made a whole career out of hunting down and chasing non-humans like Kyle.
“I know. I’m Lomax.”
“You should kill me. It’s the law.”
Lomax filled the kettle and switched it on before he spoke again. He turned to Kyle and leaned against the counter. “I know the law. Hell, I helped make these laws.” His mouth twisted in disgust. “Now I break them.”
Kyle’s mouth went dry. This man in front of him shaped the laws that had turned him from a citizen to an outlaw? “You do? Why?”
“Because the laws are wrong.” Lomax said the words so calmly that would put him in prison if the authorities heard them.
“I’ve been hiding for months.”
Hid, ran, waiting for the end.
“We know. We’ve been tracking you.” Lomax spooned coffee into two mugs and poured in the water. “Milk and sugar?”
“Milk and two sugars please.” Lomax offered him the mug. Kyle took it but he waited for the other shoe to drop. No one offered him coffee anymore. No one could afford to be associated with him. Just the whisper of talking to a Kyle was enough to get the authorities on their doorstep. “You’ve been tracking me?”
Lomax sipped his own coffee and pulled a face. He dumped another spoonful in it and tried again. Kyle took a mouthful of his, feeling the heat burn through his human anatomy.
“We track all non-humans,” Lomax said eventually.
“Why?” The only people that tracked non-humans killed them in Kyle’s experience.
Lomax put down his mug. “Come with me.”
Kyle looked at the half-drunk contents of his mug, wishing he could have finished his first cup of coffee in five months.
“You can bring that with you,” Lomax said.
“Thanks,” Kyle said quietly, but he swallowed the rest of the mug in three gulps and left the mug behind near the sink.
Lomax opened a door and switched on a light. He clattered down the bare, wooden staircase. He paused at the bottom and looked over his shoulder at Kyle. “You need to keep control.”
Kyle stared at him, offended at the implication that he couldn’t keep control of his emotions. He was a Kyle. He was built to be controlled. It wasn’t his fault there was a flaw in his programming. “I am controlled.”
“If you feel you’re losing it, tell me. We can help.”
“I’ve seen the way humans help,” Kyle snapped. Humans had been ‘helping’ Kyles out of existence for years.
Lomax inclined his head. “Touché, but I didn’t mean that. We can calm the impulses that lead to self-destruction. We are friends.”
“Kyles don’t have friends. We’ve learnt that to our cost.”
But he understood the warning.
“Just wait and see.” Lomax tapped the keypad beside the door. He didn’t try to hide the code although he must have known Kyle could memorise it.
The door didn’t open.
“Now you try,” Lomax said.
Kyle frowned but he moved past Lomax and tapped in the same numbers.
He heard the door unlock and tentatively he pushed it open.
Lomax looked at him. “You see? You understand?”
Kyle licked his dry lips and nodded. It wasn’t a random pattern of numbers. This was relevant to him. A date, a time, a serial number.
14.12.05 at 15.41, 0001. The date, time he was brought online and his serial number.
“This is your number for this door. Only you can use it. All non-humans have their own number for all our sanctuaries. It will open all the doors.”
“Isn’t that obvious? Even humans could crack that code.”
Lomax grimaced at the snipe. “You can change it. This is the initial code.” He pushed open the door and Kyle took his first look at what Lomax termed a sanctuary.
The room was small, probably the footage of the house. Each wall was a large screen showing a map with coloured pins.
“Each pin represents a non-human in the area.”
Kyle stared. “There are hundreds of us.”
“One thousand, three hundred and forty-five.”
Three men emerged from a small room at the back, all dressed in plain black T-shirts and jeans, and one of them wearing a turban. Kyle assessed their threat level as low but he’d been wrong before.
Kyle wasn’t sure who’d spoken and he went on alert.
“Control, remember? You’re safe. Safe,” Lomax murmured in his ear. “This is Johnson, Singh and Wu. They’re all trained to protect you.”
Kyle gave him a sceptical glance and Johnson laughed.
“Looks like you’ve got some convincing to do there, boss.” Johnson grinned at Kyle, his smile distorting the long scar that stretched the length of his face and contrasted with the blackness of his skin. “Glad you’re finally here.”
“Why am I here?” Kyle asked bluntly. “And why’ve you got a… a… what did you call it?” He turned to Lomax.
“Why’ve you got a sanctuary in Epsom? Why not in London?”
“Because you’re here,” Wu said.
“Me?” Kyle stared at him blankly. “I don’t get it.”
Singh waved him over to a screen, pressed a couple of buttons and brought up a map of the UK and pins distributed throughout, with a cluster near London. “This is the UK. We have nearly five hundred sanctuaries. We’ve got fifty in London.”
“So what’ve I got to do with it?”
Lomax joined them. “We’re here to protect you.”
Kyle frowned. “You’re here to protect Kyles.”
“Yes, but specifically you.”
“But why?”
“You’re the first Kyle.”
Kyle.1, the first one to be brought online back in 2005. He was the first of an experiment to build an android that could live in society. A successful experiment and more Kyles were made. Thousands of them, not just used as weapons, but as workmen and first responders. Wherever there was need for extra strength. But then something happened with the programming and the Kyles became more than cannon-fodder. Some of the Kyles started to rebel against their orders.
The campaign to rid the world of all the non-humans took hold and suddenly Kyle, who’d been quietly and happily working as a fireman in the local area found himself rejected by his human colleagues and friends and then hunted as vermin.
He’d lived as an outcast for six years and—
“You knew about me?” he demanded. They all nodded. “You track me?”
“Yes,” Lomax said.
“You let them hunt me like vermin every single day?” His anger increased.
Lomax grabbed him around his bicep. “Keep control, Kyle. You can’t afford to get angry.”
Kyle pulled away. “I’ve been angry since humans forced me out of job and home. I’ve had to hide just to stay alive. I see my face on wanted posters and on the TV. You knew where I was. You could have helped. And you tell me not to get angry!”
“We knew you were here,” Johnson said, “but we only track Kyles by sightings. Since you broke your programming non-humans don’t have the built-in tracking device they were built with.”
“You said you saw me before,” Kyle said to Lomax. “You knew I was here.”
Lomax nodded. “We found out you were back in the area about four months ago. The sanctuary has been here for three years. It was my decision not to make you aware of us until we were sure you were stable. It’s the same for every non-human.”
“So now what?”
“We have to get you away from here. Cartwright’s patrols have increased. If you stay here you’re liable to get us all killed.”
 The world didn’t take kindly to AI sympathisers. Anyone caught harbouring non-humans was put on trial for treason.
“Let me go. I won’t tell them about you,” Kyle said.
Lomax shook his head. “Sorry, Kyle, but we can’t take that risk. Tonight you get a hot meal and a sleep in a bed and then you’ll be moved tomorrow morning.”
“So I’m a prisoner?”
“We’re the good guys,” Singh said.
“Really?” Kyle asked. “Because I’m sure Cartwright’s men would say the same thing.”
“I’m sorry, Kyle, but you get two options; leave here under our protection….” Lomax didn’t say the second option but he didn’t need to.
Live under their rules or be terminated.
“I know it seems unfair,” Wu said, “but you’ll see that we really are the good guys, Kyle.”
 “So you say.” Kyle shuddered.
“You need something to eat and a rest,” Johnson said. “I’ll take you back upstairs.”
“Aren’t you worried I’ll try to escape?” Kyle asked.
Lomax shook his head.
Escape and be terminated.
For a brief moment Kyle contemplated his ultimate option. He’d always sworn he’d never self-destruct but as the years of being hunted had increased the prospect of the end seemed more and more attractive. Then he looked at the three men, the tension in their faces, and realised they knew what he was thinking.
“You are safe,” he said, echoing Lomax’s words.
They relaxed – a fraction – and Johnson said, “Food, sleep. Come on.” He opened the door to the stairs and waited for Kyle. “Seriously, man, Wu is the best cook we’ve had in here in like – ever.”
“I’m not hungry.” Kyle’s stomach rumbled loudly in the small room.
Singh chuckled. “I never understood why they made an android that needs to eat.”
Kyle shrugged. “We fit into society better if we eat and drink.”
“When was the last time you had a hot meal?” Johnson demanded.
“Months.” Kyle remembered how he’d earned that particular meal and his face darkened. No one seemed to notice his change in mood.
“Then hurry the fuck up,” Johnson took the stairs two at a time.
Lomax squeezed Kyle’s shoulder. “You need this. I’ll be up soon.”
Left with no choice, Kyle followed Johnson up the stairs and back into the kitchen, blinking at the sudden daylight.
Johnson looked in the oven. “We’ve got lasagne. Sit down. I’ll serve.”
Kyle blinked. “Not Chinese?”
Johnson wrinkled his brow. “Why would it be Chinese?”
“Because of Wu?”
“You think because Wu’s Chinese and the cook we should eat chow mein every night?” Johnson looked bemused.
“I guess not.” Kyle looked bemused. “I didn’t mean to be racist.”
“Just don’t say it in Wu’s hearing. He’ll go all crouching tiger, hidden dragon on you.”
Kyle sat down and shut up. He figured it was the safest thing to do.
“More coffee?” Johnson asked, waving a mug at him.
“Please.” Kyle was going to be buzzing after months of not drinking coffee. He would be able to run faster.
“Take that with you.” Johnson handed Kyle a mug. “You need a shower.”
“I’m fine.”
“No dude, seriously you’re not. You may be an android but you stink worse than a teenage boy. Shower and get fresh clothes. You’ll be a lot more pleasant to be around.”
“They made me too human,” Kyle muttered.
The last five years would have been a lot easier if he hadn’t had to feed and clothe his human side. He was restricted by his humanity. Kyle thought that was fucking ironic considering that it was humans that were trying to kill him.
“If it wasn’t for your eyes, no one would know you were a Kyle,” Johnson agreed.
Johnson showed Kyle where to shower and handed him clean jeans and a T-shirt. “There’s clean underwear in this drawer,” he said. “Pick what you want. We’ve got shoes and jackets downstairs..”
Kyle looked in the drawer. “You know my size.”
“You’re all built to a pattern. You’re a bit thinner than most because you’ve been on the run the longest but you’re all the same basic shape and size. The shoes are all size 10.”
Yeah. Kyle shook his head. Stupid of him to forget.
Johnson left him alone and Kyle stood in the bathroom, staring at the shower. He hadn’t been clean in months. He stripped as fast as he could, the urge to get rid of the filthy clothing overwhelming. He felt so dirty, like his human skin crawled with bugs. He probably did have a few bugs as he slept on the ground most of the time.
The shower was awesome. Kyle washed himself, and then washed again, taking pleasure in just the act of soaping himself with some flowery shit, then he stayed under the pounding hot water until Johnson knocked on the door, asking if he’d drowned. Reluctantly Kyle turned off the water and wrapped himself in a towel just as Johnson opened the door and poked his head around.
“You okay, man?”
“Yeah, sorry.” Kyle smiled apologetically. “It’s been a while.”
“Cool. Just checking you hadn’t drowned in there. I forgot to give you a new toothbrush and toothpaste.”
“Dinner’s almost ready so don’t take too long.” Johnson handed the items over and shut the door.
Kyle got dressed, revelling in the feel of clean clothes and went downstairs to the kitchen. Johnson handed him more coffee and told him to sit. He chattered to Kyle about inconsequential things as he served. Kyle had to hold back a moan as he took the mouthful of lasagne. It was good, and hot, and no one was going to take it away from him or demand that he pay for the meal with his body. He half-listened to Johnson, more focused on enjoying the meal.
“You don’t have an issue with talking to a Kyle,” Kyle said suddenly, cutting across Johnson’s conversation.
Johnson looked at him carefully. “No, I don’t.”
“Why not?” Kyle demanded, not caring if he sounded rude.
“How long have you been hiding?”
“Five years.” Five years since his carefully constructed life went to hell.
“You probably haven’t seen the news that much, have you?”
Kyle shook his head. He swallowed the last mouthful of his dinner, wishing he could ask for more.
Johnson chewed on his bottom lip before he spoke. “Not everyone thinks like Cartwright. Many people are horrified by what happened to the non-humans, but they are afraid what will happen to them if they speak out.”
“Nobody spoke out. They left us to be hunted like the vermin they call us.”
“That’s not true.” Johnson contradicted him, but gently, as if he understood Kyle’s angry words. “They were scared. The propaganda was good. You guys… didn’t help.”
Kyle couldn’t argue with that. A number of Kyles had used the self-destruct rather than be taken by the authorities. Many people had died in the process. “We were scared too.”
In the initial days he had been in touch with other Kyles and they had helped each other, but as time wore on their numbers became fewer and it had been months since he’d spoken to another one of his kind. They were too scared to congregate. It made them easier targets.
Kyle suddenly remembered something Lomax had said. “Lomax said he helped shape the laws that destroy us.”
Johnson nodded. “He was a lawyer for the government. What it had to do sickened him so much he became part of the resistance.”
“And you?”
“You know there were other non-humans?”
“Yes. Janes and Michaels.”
Janes had been designed to protect children following an embarrassing slew of lawsuits against the church and teachers for sexual abuse against children. The public had demanded that the government provide safer care for their kids. Michaels had a new role in the current regime – trackers. Kyle had learned to fear those that were once friends.
Johnson looked down at the table. “I lived with a Jane. Jane 2034. She was my partner. She was captured early on.”
“I’m sorry.”
Johnson gave him a wry smile. “Me too. She was amazing.”
“So you protect other non-humans?” Stupid question but Kyle was uncomfortable facing the sadness in Johnson’s eyes. He was too wrapped up in his own anger to deal with a human’s grief.
“All that we can find,” Lomax said as he joined them. “We will never stop trying to protect every last non-human against psychopaths like Cartwright.” He sat down next to Kyle. “You look better.”
Johnson snorted. “You mean he doesn’t stink now.”
If Kyle could have blushed he would have.
“Shut up,” Lomax said but one side of his mouth curled up in a smirk.
Johnson served Lomax his dinner and handed another plate to Kyle. “Don’t hurl. I hate clearing up puke.”
Kyle ate a few mouthfuls before he said, “How did the resistance get started?”
Johnson pointed at Lomax. “He started it.
Startled, Kyle stared at Lomax. “You did?”
 “What happened was wrong. It was vile,” Lomax said.
Kyle couldn’t disagree with that. “When did it start? We never heard anything about it.” The Kyles had thought they were alone.
“Three years ago I met other people like me. We hated the new laws but we didn’t know how to help. Then a Kyle ran into my garden. He was being hunted and needed somewhere to hide. I took him in and contacted a sympathetic friend. We managed to smuggle that Kyle over the border later that night. That was the start.” Lomas turned to look at Kyle. “There are a lot of us. More than you think. But we can’t afford to take chances.”
“Has anyone betrayed you?”
“Once or twice.” Lomax pressed his lips together. “We’ve lost good people – humans and non-humans.”
“Thank you,” Kyle said simply.

“You’re welcome.”

Day 4: Jordan & Rhys

Complete Faith

Complete Faith

Blurb: For Tommy Bradley, a hand working on the Lost Cow Ranch in rural Texas, admitting his sexuality is impossible, even if his bosses, Luke and Simon, are gay—Tommy has spent his entire life hiding the truth from his homophobic parents. Then Tommy meets pastor Noah Taylor in Luke’s father’s hospital room, and his difficult secret becomes that much harder to keep.

Noah is unlike any man of God—or any man—Tommy’s ever met. For one thing, his congregation is made up primarily of GLBT individuals and their families. For another, he isn’t afraid of the attraction he feels toward Tommy, and he makes his intentions very clear. But Noah won’t hide his sexuality or his love from the world, and he won’t start a relationship with Tommy while Tommy hides his, either. Faced with the choice of losing Noah or coming out to his parents, Tommy takes his first steps out of the closet.

But Tommy isn’t the only one facing challenges. Thanks
to an outpouring of hatred from Pastor Jackson and a group of ranch owners, Noah must cope with the possible loss of his church and his livelihood.

Buylinks: Dreamspinner ebook | Dreamspinner Paperback | Audiobook | Amazon | ARe

Translation: French | Italian

Bundle: Complete set of the Morning Report series


Chapter One

SHOVEL. Flick. Shovel. Flick. Tommy flung another shovelful of muck into the wheelbarrow with a vicious twist and started again. The ranch hand had been mucking out the stable for an hour, but it was debatable whether he was actually achieving very much. Pain in his bottom lip made him conscious of the way he was gnawing on it. It was raw from constant chewing, and the coppery tang in his mouth suggested he had actually drawn blood this time.

His next shovel of muck went astray, splattering his boss as he came into the stall. Tommy looked up at the grunt to see Luke standing in the doorway, straw and muck covering his flannel shirt and jeans, a few stray bits caught in the light stubble on his jaw.

“Heck, boss, I’m so sorry,” Tommy said, watching as Luke brushed himself down.

“I think you need to work on your aim,” Luke griped, picking off what definitely didn’t look like straw with a disgusted look.

Before Tommy could respond, Luke’s partner and foreman of the Lost Cow Ranch, Simon, appeared in the doorway, his large body blocking out the light. “Luke, I’m going now. See ya later.” He stopped as he caught sight of his partner covered in horse shit. “You been rolling in the hay without me?”

Guiltily, Tommy said, “It was my fault. I didn’t know the boss was standing there.”

“Obviously,” Luke said wryly. “Are you nearly done? I was coming to see if you wanted a lift over to Noah’s. Momma’s got a meeting over at the church, and she was offering a ride.”

Tommy felt his face heat at the knowing looks of his bosses. “No thanks,” he said shortly and went back to shoveling shit, being more careful this time where it landed. There was a long silence, and Tommy could imagine the unspoken conversation going on above his head.

“Is everything all right, Tommy?” Simon asked him, his tone concerned.

“Fine,” he muttered, not looking up. “I just want to finish my chores.” He knew that he was the color of a ripe tomato all over by now. Cursing his red hair and the fact he flushed so easily, Tommy kept his eyes firmly trained on the dirt floor. He only wished it were that simple.

Noah was… Noah was amazing. The pastor of St. Mark’s was a walking wet dream as far as Tommy was concerned: smooth chocolate skin that fascinated him, and huge dark eyes that seemed to know everything there was to know about him. Hell, the only other man he’d ever been attracted to was Luke, and that was one fantasy that was never going to happen. He’d known Luke all his life; the older man had been the subject of all his jerk-off fantasies for years until the advent of Noah, but Luke had never once noticed his crush. Aching with a fierce jealousy, Tommy gripped the handle of the shovel so hard he was white-knuckled.

“Tommy?” A large hand on his shoulder made him jump. “You know you can talk to us if there’s a problem?”

He looked up at Simon, whose expression matched his gentle tone. “I know that,” he muttered. “I’ve just got work to do.”

“Okay, Tommy. Just remember we’re here if you want us.” Simon squeezed his shoulder and nodded at Luke, who picked off some more muck with a grimace.

“All right, then. I’d better change before Momma complains about the smell.”

“Sorry, boss,” Tommy apologized again.

Luke waved his apology away. “No worries. I got in the way of your work. C’mon, Si, I’ve got to get Momma to St. Mark’s before I visit Pops.”

Luke’s father was in the hospital following a heart attack, but he was finally off the critical list, and for the first time in weeks, there wasn’t a member of his family sitting beside his bed at all times. After a car accident, Momma Murray was finding it difficult to drive despite intensive physical therapy, and one of the boys from the Lost Cow acted as her chauffeur when possible.

Tommy watched as Simon dropped a kiss on Luke’s lips, missing the dirt on his face. They grinned at him and walked away, shoulders and hips brushing together. It was hard to hate Simon for having what Tommy wanted. Luke was completely smitten where Simon was concerned. God help anyone who tried to come between them. Sighing, Tommy went back to mucking out the stalls, trying not to think about Luke and Noah, so very different, both gorgeous and both totally unavailable.

Church was tricky. His parents insisted that he attend church every Sunday morning unless there was a crisis on the Lost Cow. To his amazement, his God-fearing mother had wordlessly switched to St. Mark’s church, which meant seeing Noah every Sunday, watching the young pastor as he talked about love and forgiveness, about inclusivity and understanding. The pastor was a sodomite and totally open about his sexuality. Tommy knew that half the congregation were folk who weren’t welcome elsewhere: gays, young unmarried mothers, and now the Lost Cow ranch, who swelled the numbers every Sunday, pleased to have somewhere to worship. His parents weren’t the most tolerant of people, and Tommy couldn’t work out why on earth they had switched to Noah’s church instead of staying with that bigot, Pastor Jackson. Tommy didn’t swear—being brought up with a wooden spoon over his knuckles for every curse word, he had soon learned to curb his language—but whenever he thought about the trouble the Jacksons had caused Luke and Simon, he would have earned himself swollen knuckles for the blue storm he kicked up.

So why was he avoiding Noah? Chewing again on his abused bottom lip, Tommy refilled Lulu’s stall with fresh hay and water. Inexperienced he might be, but Tommy knew that Noah was attracted to him. Every time the pastor saw Tommy’s face in the congregation, his eyes lit up, and the warmth in them as they rested on Tommy just got a little more intense. For Tommy’s part, he felt his cheeks flush every time he caught sight of Noah staring at him. But Noah was gay and Tommy was straight, at least as far as his parents and the rest of the world were concerned. There was only one person Tommy had been completely honest to about the feelings he had for other men. Scared and frustrated at having to hide his sexuality, and needing to talk to someone, he had confided in Luke when he’d first started at the ranch. His boss had kept his secret for five years, only admitting that he had told Simon after Tommy had said he was leaving. Tommy could trust both men, though. They were discreet, and none of the other hands suspected he was anything other than shy. Tommy wanted to move across the state, maybe find somewhere he could meet other men, away from his parents’ disapproving attitudes. Yet now they were willingly going to a church populated by homosexuals and other fallen, and he was the object of the attention of the most gorgeous man that walked the earth. The world had tilted on its axis, and Tommy was sliding off the edge.

He started on James’s stall, aware that in his interminable inner monologue, Tommy was avoiding the question. Why was he avoiding Noah? Simple. He was scared shitless. And a virgin. Twenty-three years old and never even been kissed. He’d hoped to go to college away from home and sow his oats there, but his parents had made it clear there wasn’t any money for college and they expected him to start working on a ranch as soon as he left high school. Tommy wasn’t an outstanding scholar or a jock, there were no scholarships for the likes of him, and he had no choice but to accede to his parents’ wishes. They hadn’t been pleased when he’d started at the Lost Cow, but as long-time friends of Greg and Pamela they were careful not to voice their protests in front of Luke’s momma.

There was a noise outside the stable, and he paused, not wanting to coat another person in shit. Tommy looked up to see Luke back again, frown lines between his eyes.

“Is something the matter, boss?” he asked.

“I’ve got to go down to the back pasture. Chuck wants me to look at some plants he’s found. Can you take Momma to the church? Jack can cover you here.”

He was going to see Noah! Cursing himself for the way his heart leaped in his chest, Tommy muttered, “Sure. Give me ten minutes to shower and change. Tell Momma I’ll be over in half an hour.”

“Will do,” Luke agreed. “And Tommy….”

Tommy looked up to see a mischievous grin playing across Luke’s face.

“Just relax, okay? He likes you. You like him. Don’t fret about it.”

Knowing his face was beet red, Tommy wished he could jump in the hay and hide, away from those all too knowing eyes. Luke was never going to let him live this down. “It’s not that simple.”

Luke’s green eyes turned sympathetic. “It really is, Tommy. Noah isn’t going to hurt you. He isn’t that kind of guy.”

“But my parents…,” Tommy began, still clutching the shovel in front of him. How many times had he defended his place in the closet with those three words?

“I’m not saying it won’t be hard, but your parents can’t live your life for you. They moved to the church knowing Noah is gay. See how they cope with you making a friend first.” Luke smiled at him. “Now, git, or Momma will be chewing my hide. You know what she’s like when there’s a cards afternoon.”

Startled, Tommy almost dropped the shovel. “Your momma’s playing cards? I thought she was meeting with the ladies.”

“She is. Except the ladies have an interesting way of studying the Bible. But don’t you tell her I told you,” Luke warned.

There were footsteps outside, and Jack hove into view, a smile on his face. “Ready to get going, Tommy?”

“Sure. I’ve only finished Lulu. I kept being interrupted.” He shot a look at Luke, who laughed and clapped him on the back.

“Say hello to the pastor. Liz and I’ll be there on Sunday. She’s got the day off.” Jack and his wife lived off the ranch and got to church as much as her shifts at the local hospital allowed.

Tommy couldn’t help the flush that spread across his cheeks at the thought of talking to Noah. “I’ll tell him,” he mumbled as he brushed past the two men.

“I’ll call Momma. Don’t take too long making yourself look pretty,” Luke called after him.

Stumbling over his feet, Tommy nearly turned around, horrified at Luke’s obvious implication, but then he heard Jack say, “You sure you want to send him? He’s fair game for all those women.”

“Why do you think I don’t want to go?” Luke retorted, and they both laughed.

Flipping them both off, Tommy made his way into the bunkhouse. It was empty, and after collecting fresh jeans and a shirt, he made his way to the bathroom. Whatever happened, he couldn’t go stinking of horse shit. Luke’s momma wouldn’t approve.

St. Mark’s was about an hour away from the ranch, and Pamela spent most of the ride holding her injured arm against her body, thin lines of pain etched around her mouth. She didn’t seem to want to chat. Too busy worrying about her husband, Tommy imagined. The parking lot was two-thirds full as they arrived. As he put the truck in park, Tommy looked at Pamela. “Do you want me to pick you up later, Momma?”

She frowned at him. “Luke said you’d be staying. I think Noah is looking forward to having some male company. He uses it as an excuse to pretend that he doesn’t know the poker game is going on.”

Tommy’s jaw dropped. The ladies of the church were playing poker? “Please tell me my mother isn’t there.”

Pamela snorted as she reached for the door handle. “She’s one of the best we’ve got. That woman is a card shark. The others say we’ve raised more money since she arrived than in the previous six months.”

Tommy felt a little dizzy. “But she’s only been going three weeks.”

“Yes,” said Pamela grimly. “As I said, card shark.” She took a look at his face. “Don’t look so shocked, son. It’s just like quilting but with cards.”

“But you’re gambling in the Lord’s house,” he said faintly.

“With Monopoly money,” she assured him. “Then we agree to match it in donations to repair the church roof. It’s all controlled very tightly. The menfolk don’t like it if you spend too much beer money.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Tommy walked around the truck to help Pamela out and waited while she got her balance. She beamed at him, the lines in her face easing as they started walking to the side door of the church.

“It’s much more fun than sticking a needle in some tatty old fabric. I wish I’d found this church years ago.”

“No wonder my mom likes coming here so much,” he mused, more to himself than Pamela. “She always hated the sewing and baking sessions.”

“Parents always surprise their kids,” Pamela said sagely. “Now, let me find the ladies, and you can keep the pastor company.”

Tommy shot a look at Pamela, but she was walking on ahead. He wasn’t fooled, though. That woman never missed a thing. Pushing open the door for Pamela, he followed her as she walked into a room with about half a dozen women already around a table, his mother being one of them. Tommy grinned at the sight of the Monopoly money. Evelyn caught sight of her son and ducked her head, flushing deeply. His lips twitched. It was the first time in living memory he could remember seeing his mother discomfited. Caught ready to gamble in church. Evelyn was never going to live this down.


A hand landed on his shoulder, startling him. Tommy was acutely aware of Noah’s spicy cologne and his body, warm against Tommy’s back. He froze like a startled rabbit, caught between the object of his fantasies and his mother. The only small bit of comfort was that his mother looked even more uncomfortable with the pastor’s eyes upon her.

Pamela turned to look at the pastor over Tommy’s shoulder. “Morning, Noah,” she said brightly. “We’re just about to start quilting, so if you want to escape now….”

The pastor sighed, his breath tickling Tommy’s ear. “I’m not sure what’s worse. The fact you’re gambling or the fact you’re outright lying to my face, Momma.”

“Why, Pastor Taylor, how could you say such a thing?” she gasped in mock indignation. “Now shoo. Take this nice young man and go and talk man things while the good ladies and I talk… about things you don’t need to hear.”

“Come on, Tommy.” Noah’s hand slipped to Tommy’s waist to guide him away. “Let’s run before they corrupt us even more.”

“Hush now.” Pamela grinned and virtually pushed them both out of the room. “See you later. You boys play nice.”

Now that was going too far in front of his mom. Tommy turned to glare at Pamela, but she shut the door in his face. When he turned back, Noah was grinning at him.

“I wasn’t expecting to see you today,” he said, beckoning Tommy further down the hallway, leading him into a small kitchen. “Do you want a Coke or a tea?”

“Uh… Coke would be great.” Tommy stumbled over his words. Jesus! He mentally apologized upstairs for taking the Lord’s name. He really had to get his head together around this man.

Noah opened the fridge door and surveyed the contents. “I can offer Coke or Dr Pepper,” he advised.

“Coke, please.” Tommy held out his hand for the can, suppressing a shiver as their fingertips brushed lightly, and took a seat at the kitchen table. It was a tiny whitewashed room, only just accommodating the table and chairs. Cups and saucers were laid out on a tray, presumably ready for the ladies when they had finished “quilting.” It was much easier to think of it like that. The thought of his mother gambling was just too much.

“How is Greg?” Noah asked. “I’ve not been in to see him in a few days. He was looking good the last time I saw him.”

“The Boss is doing great.” Tommy smiled as he thought of Luke’s dad the last time he’d seen him. It had been touch and go for a long time, but against the odds, Greg Murray was starting to pull through, although he still wasn’t stable enough to have the triple bypass.

“And Luke and Simon? How are they?” Noah inquired.

Tommy frowned a little. Noah knew how Luke and Simon were, having seen them a couple of days ago.

“They’re fine, and Chuck is as well,” he said shortly. “Would you like to ask about the horses?”

Noah gave him a startled look, and then he laughed ruefully. “He was probably next on my list,” he admitted, looking embarrassed.

“I never thought you’d have problems finding something to talk about,” Tommy said with a smirk.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a conversation alone before,” Noah pointed out, his fingers unconsciously smoothing away the beads of condensation on the soda can.

Unable to drag his eyes away from Noah’s long fingers caressing the can, Tommy licked his lips.

“Don’t do that!”

Tommy looked up. “Huh?” he said, confused.

Noah’s dark eyes were intent on his mouth. “Don’t lick your lips like that. It’s distracting.”

“I didn’t… I…. ” Tommy stopped, unable to complete the sentence, nervously licking his lips again.

Noah made a low noise in the back of his throat. “Tommy Bradley, you are a tease.”

“I don’t mean to be,” Tommy said honestly, bewildered by Noah’s reaction.

“I know you don’t, and that’s what makes it so enticing.”

Tommy was shocked when Noah leaned over and covered his hand with his own. He tried to pull back. What if his mom saw them holding hands; what if anyone saw them? Noah refused to let him go.

“Do you like me?” the pastor asked bluntly.

“I… uh… you’re… my pastor,” Tommy said faintly.

That provoked an eye roll. “Look,” Noah began, “I’m not going to lie to you. I’m attracted to you, Tommy. I know you’re attracted to me.”

Tommy looked at the kitchen door, tugging to retrieve his hand. What if someone walked in?

Noah gave him an understanding look and let go of his hand. “I know you’re not out,” he said more quietly. “Luke knows, doesn’t he?”

“And Simon now.” Tommy swallowed hard. “That’s all. How did you know I was…?” He paused, not even wanting to say the word here. He was blinded by the leer Noah gave him.

“My gaydar is never wrong.”

Noah’s confidence was annoying. Tommy was tempted to tell him he was straight just to prick that bubble of smugness.

“My parents…,” Tommy muttered, resisting the urge to poke his tongue out.

“Don’t know.” Noah nodded. “I know.”

“They think I’m straight. I want to move away. Find somewhere I can….” He trailed off.

“Be yourself?” Noah suggested, his eyes gentle on Tommy’s face.

“They’d throw me out if they found out.”

“Have you ever been in a relationship with a man, Tommy?”

Tommy shook his head. “I’ve never even kissed a man, kissed anyone, for that matter.”

Noah looked surprised. “Not one?”

“No opportunity. I’m not out anywhere, and I don’t know any gay men except Luke and Simon, and it’s not like—well, they’re completely exclusive.”

“Yes, they are. I’ve never met a couple so tight. You know a few more gay men than that now you come to my church.”

“So do my parents.” Tommy shrugged. “I never thought I’d see that day. Why do they come here?”

Shaking his head, Noah said, “You know I can’t tell you that.” His eyes softened. “I can tell you that maybe you ought to try talking to them.”

Tommy stared at him incredulously. “Have you tried talking to my mom? She cheered when Pastor Tony said that all queers burn in hell.”


At Noah’s raised eyebrow, Tommy squirmed. “She agreed, anyhow.”

“Just talk to them, Tommy. They feel real bad for what’s happened to Greg and Pamela.”

“But not what happened to Luke and Simon,” Tommy pointed out.

Noah huffed out a breath. “I think people need time. You can’t expect them to change overnight.”

“I don’t expect anything from people around here. Not anymore.” Tommy couldn’t stop the bitterness in his voice. As far as he was concerned, he couldn’t wait to see the back of his childhood home. Tommy had had nothing but good times at Lost Cow, apart from the frustration of his feelings for Luke, but as for the people in the town, he wouldn’t give them the time of day.

“It’s been a difficult time,” Noah agreed.

Tommy had to bite back the angry words. Noah had no real idea what he was talking about. And then Tommy looked at Noah, really looked at him, and saw the understanding in his eyes. Noah was an out and proud black homosexual living in Texas.

“Was it bad?” he asked awkwardly.

“Pretty awful,” Noah agreed easily, not put out by the question.

Tommy opened and closed his mouth, not really sure what to say.

“Maybe I’ll tell you one day,” Noah said, patting Tommy’s hand. “Would you like another drink? I have some danish as well.”

Coming Soon: Une Foi Aveugle (Complete Faith)

Coming Soon: Une Foi Aveugle (Complete Faith) 

Buylinks: ebook | paperback
Out 22nd March

Suite de Un’altra volta
Le Ranch de la Vache Perdue, tome 2

Pour Tommy Bradley, ouvrier sur le Ranch de La Vache Perdue, admettre sa sexualité est impossible, même si ses patrons, Luke et Simon, sont gays. Tommy a passé toute sa vie à cacher la vérité à ses parents homophobes. Puis il rencontre le pasteur Noah Taylor dans la chambre d’hôpital du père de Luke et son secret devient d’autant plus difficile à garder.

Noah est différent de tout homme de Dieu – de n’importe quel homme – que Tommy a rencontré. D’une part, sa congrégation est principalement composée d’individus LGBT et de leurs familles. D’autre part, il n’est pas effrayé par l’attraction qu’il ressent envers Tommy et il est très clair sur ses intentions. Mais Noah refuse de cacher sa sexualité ou son amour au monde entier et de commencer une relation avec Tommy tant que le jeune homme dissimule la sienne. Devant choisir entre perdre Noah ou révéler son homosexualité à ses parents, Tommy fait ses premiers pas hors du placard.


DÉBLAYER. JETER. Déblayer. Jeter. Tommy lança une nouvelle pelletée de fumier dans la brouette d’une violente torsion puis recommença. L’employé du ranch avait nettoyé l’écurie pendant une heure, mais c’était à se demander s’il avait réellement accompli sa tâche. La douleur dans sa lèvre inférieure lui fit prendre conscience qu’il la rongeait. Elle était à vif, à cause du mâchouillement constant, le goût cuivré dans sa bouche suggérant que cette fois, il l’avait mordue à sang.

La pelletée suivante dévia, éclaboussant son patron qui entrait dans le box. Tommy leva les yeux au grognement pour découvrir Luke, se tenant dans l’encadrement, de la paille et du fumier recouvrant son jean et sa chemise en flanelle, quelques brins épars pris dans le léger chaume de sa mâchoire.

— Mince, patron, je suis vraiment désolé, dit Tommy en regardant Luke se frotter.

— Je pense que tu as besoin de travailler ta visée, répondit Luke d’un ton irrité tout en se débarrassant de ce qui ne ressemblait définitivement pas à de la paille avec un regard de dégoût.

Avant que Tommy ne puisse répondre, le compagnon de Luke, et contremaître du ranch de La Vache Perdue, Simon, apparut à la porte, son grand corps bloquant la lumière.

— Luke, j’y vais. Je te vois plus tard.

Il s’arrêta en apercevant son partenaire couvert de crottin de cheval.

— Tu t’es roulé dans le foin sans moi ?

— C’est de ma faute, dit Tommy d’un air coupable. Je ne savais pas que le patron était là.

— De toute évidence, répondit ironiquement Luke. As-tu bientôt terminé ? Je venais voir si tu voulais aller chez Noah. Mama a une réunion à l’église et elle propose de t’emmener.

Tommy sentit son visage chauffer devant les regards entendus de ses patrons.

— Non merci, répondit-il d’un ton bref, retournant pelleter le fumier, faisant plus attention cette fois à l’endroit où il atterrissait.

— Tout va bien, Tommy ? demanda Simon, préoccupé.

— Très bien, marmonna-t-il sans lever les yeux. Je veux juste finir mes corvées.

Il savait qu’il était à présent de la couleur d’une tomate mûre. Maudissant ses cheveux roux et le fait qu’il rougisse si facilement, il garda ses yeux fermement braqués sur le sol crasseux. Il aimerait seulement que ce soit plus simple.

Noah était… Noah était incroyable. Le pasteur de St. Mark était un rêve éveillé aux yeux de Tommy : une peau chocolat soyeuse qui le fascinait, de grands yeux sombres qui semblaient connaitre tout ce qu’il y avait à savoir de lui. Bon sang, le seul autre homme par qui il avait jamais été attiré était Luke et c’était un fantasme qui ne se réaliserait jamais. Il l’avait connu toute sa vie, Luke avait été l’objet de toutes ses masturbations pendant des années, jusqu’à l’arrivée de Noah, mais son ami n’avait pas une seule fois remarqué son béguin. Souffrant d’une jalousie féroce, Tommy saisit si fort la poignée de la pelle que ses jointures blanchirent.

— Tommy ?

La large main sur son épaule le fit sursauter.

— Tu sais que tu peux nous parler si tu as un problème.

Il leva les yeux vers Simon, dont l’expression correspondait à sa voix douce.

— Je le sais, marmonna-t-il. J’ai seulement du travail à faire.

— OK Tommy. Souviens-toi juste que nous sommes là si tu en as besoin.

Simon pressa son épaule et fit un signe à Luke, qui enlevait un peu plus de fumier en grimaçant.

— Très bien, alors. Je ferais mieux de me changer avant que Mama se plaigne de l’odeur.

— Désolé patron, s’excusa de nouveau Tommy.

Luke écarta ses excuses d’un geste de la main.

— Ne t’inquiète pas. Je te gênais dans ton travail. Allez, Sim. Je dois emmener Mama à St Mark avant d’aller rendre visite à papa.

Le père de Luke était à l’hôpital à la suite d’une crise cardiaque, mais il n’était plus dans un état critique et pour la première fois depuis des semaines, un membre de sa famille n’était pas assis en permanence à son chevet. Après un accident de voiture, Mama Murray avait du mal à conduire en dépit d’une intense rééducation physique et l’un des garçons de La Vache Perdue lui servait de chauffeur dès que possible.

Tommy regarda Simon déposer un baiser sur les lèvres de Luke, évitant la saleté sur son visage. Ils se sourirent et s’éloignèrent, leurs épaules et leurs hanches se frôlant. Il lui était difficile de haïr Simon pour avoir celui qu’il voulait. Luke était éperdument amoureux de Simon. Que Dieu vienne en aide à quiconque essayait de se mettre entre eux. Soupirant, Tommy retourna nettoyer les boxes, tentant de ne penser ni à Luke ni à Noah, deux hommes tellement différents, mais à la fois magnifiques et totalement indisponibles.

L’église était un sujet épineux. Ses parents avaient insisté pour qu’il s’y rende chaque dimanche matin, à moins qu’il y ait une crise à La Vache Perdue. À son grand étonnement, sa dévote mère avait migré à l’église St Mark sans explication, ce qui signifiait voir Noah chaque dimanche, regarder le jeune pasteur parler d’amour et de pardon, d’ouverture d’esprit et de compréhension. Le pasteur était un sodomite totalement ouvert sur sa sexualité. Tommy savait que la moitié de la congrégation était des gens qui n’étaient pas les bienvenus ailleurs ; gays, jeunes mères célibataires et maintenant, l’ensemble du ranch de La Vache Perdue, qui augmentait les chiffres chaque dimanche très heureux d’avoir un lieu de culte. Ses parents n’étaient pas des plus tolérants et Tommy ne comprenait pas pourquoi ils venaient à l’église de Noah au lieu d’être restés avec ce bigot de Pasteur Jackson. Tommy ne jurait jamais – être élevé à coup de cuillère en bois sur les doigts à chaque juron lui avait appris à modérer son langage –, mais quand il songeait aux problèmes que les Jackson avaient causés à Luke et Simon, il se serait lui-même enflé les doigts pour la tempête qu’il soulevait.

Alors pourquoi évitait-il Noah ? Mâchouillant à nouveau sa lèvre inférieure maltraitée, Tommy remplit le box de Lulu de foin frais et d’eau. Il était peut-être inexpérimenté, mais il savait que Noah était attiré par lui. Chaque fois que le pasteur voyait le visage de Tommy dans la congrégation, ses yeux s’illuminaient ; leur chaleur quand ils se posaient sur lui devenait un peu plus intense. Pour sa part, Tommy sentait ses joues rougir chaque fois qu’il le surprenait à le regarder. Mais Noah était gay et Tommy était hétéro, du moins, pour ses parents et le reste du monde. Il n’avait été complètement honnête sur ses sentiments envers les autres hommes qu’avec une seule personne. Effrayé et frustré d’avoir à cacher sa sexualité, et ayant besoin de parler à quelqu’un, il s’était confié à Luke quand il avait débuté au ranch. Son patron avait gardé son secret pendant cinq ans, admettant seulement en avoir parlé à Simon quand Tommy lui avait dit un jour qu’il désirait partir. Cependant, il pouvait leur faire confiance. Ils étaient discrets et aucun des autres employés du ranch ne suspectait qu’il était autre chose que timide. Tommy voulait traverser l’État, trouver un endroit où il pourrait rencontrer d’autres hommes, loin de l’attitude désapprobatrice de ses parents. Pourtant, à présent, ils allaient volontairement dans une église peuplée d’homosexuels et autres déchus, et il était l’objet de l’attention de l’homme le plus magnifique de la Terre. Le monde avait dévié de son axe et Tommy glissait du bord.

Il commença le box de James, conscient que dans son interminable monologue intérieur, il avait éludé la question. Pourquoi évitait-il Noah ? C’était simple. Il était mort de trouille. Et vierge. À vingt-trois ans, il n’avait jamais été embrassé. Il avait espéré partir dans une université loin de la maison et y faire les quatre-cents coups, mais ses parents avaient clairement fait savoir qu’il n’y avait pas l’argent et s’attendaient à ce qu’il commence à travailler dans un ranch dès qu’il aurait quitté le lycée. Tommy n’était pas un étudiant remarquable ou un sportif, il n’y avait aucune bourse pour les gens comme lui, alors il n’eut d’autre choix que de se soumettre à la volonté de ses parents. Ils n’avaient pas été contents quand il avait débuté à La Vache Perdue, mais en tant qu’amis de longue date de Greg et Pamela, ils faisaient attention à ne pas exprimer leurs protestations devant la mère de Luke.

Il y eut du bruit à l’extérieur et il s’arrêta, ne voulant pas recouvrir une autre personne de fumier. Tommy leva les yeux et vit Luke revenir, une ride prononcée entre les sourcils.

— Quelque chose ne va pas, patron ? demanda-t-il.

— Je dois aller sur le pâturage arrière. Chuck veut que je voie certaines plantes qu’il a trouvées. Peux-tu emmener Mama à l’église ? Jake peut te remplacer ici.

Il allait voir Noah ! Se maudissant de la façon dont son cœur bondit dans sa poitrine, Tommy murmura :

— Bien sûr. Donne-moi dix minutes pour me doucher et me changer. Dis à Mama que je serai là dans une demi-heure.

— D’accord, acquiesça Luke. Et Tommy…

Tommy leva les yeux pour découvrir un sourire espiègle sur le visage de Luke.

— Détends-toi, OK. Il t’apprécie. Tu l’apprécies. Ne te tracasse pas pour ça.

Sachant que son visage était d’un rouge betterave, Tommy souhaita pouvoir sauter dans le foin et se cacher, loin de ces yeux trop complices. Luke n’allait jamais laisser tomber.

— Ce n’est pas si simple.

Les yeux verts de Luke devinrent amicaux.

— Si, ça l’est, Tommy. Noah ne te fera pas de mal. Il n’est pas ce genre d’homme.

— Mais mes parents…, commença Tommy, serrant toujours la pelle devant lui.

Combien de fois avait-il défendu sa place dans le placard avec ces trois mots ?

— Je ne dis pas que ce sera facile, mais tes parents ne peuvent pas vivre ta vie à ta place. Ils viennent à l’église de Noah en sachant qu’il est gay. Vois comment ils gèrent ton amitié avec lui d’abord, conseilla Luke en lui souriant. Maintenant, vas-y, ou Mama me rossera les fesses. Tu sais comment elle est quand il y a un après-midi cartes.

Surpris, Tommy manqua de faire tomber la pelle.

— Ta mère joue aux cartes ? Je pensais qu’elle rencontrait les dames.

— C’est vrai. Sauf que ces femmes ont une manière très intéressante d’étudier la bible. Mais ne lui dis pas que je te l’ai dit, l’avertit Luke.

Il y eut des bruits de pas à l’extérieur et Jake apparut, un sourire sur son visage.

— Prêt à y aller, Tommy ?

— Bien sûr. Je n’ai fini que Lulu. Je n’arrête pas d’être interrompu.

Il adressa un regard à Luke, qui se mit à rire et lui donna une tape sur le dos.

— Dis bonjour au pasteur. Liz et moi irons dimanche. C’est son jour de repos.

Jake et sa femme vivaient en dehors du ranch et allaient à l’église autant que ses tours de garde à l’hôpital local le permettaient.

Tommy ne put empêcher le rougissement de ses joues à l’idée de parler à Noah.

— Je lui dirai, marmonna-t-il en passant devant les deux hommes.

— Je vais appeler Mama. Ne prends pas trop de temps à te faire beau.

Trébuchant sur ses pieds, Tommy faillit se retourner horrifié par le sous-entendu évident de Luke, mais il entendit Jake lui dire :

— Tu es sûr que tu veux l’envoyer là-bas ? C’est une cible pour toutes ces femmes.

— Pourquoi crois-tu que je ne veuille pas y aller ? rétorqua Luke et ils éclatèrent de rire.

Leur adressant un doigt d’honneur, il se dirigea vers le dortoir. Il était vide et après avoir récupéré un jean propre et une chemise, il se rendit à la salle de bain. Peu importe ce qui se passait, il ne pouvait pas y aller puant le crottin de cheval. La mère de Luke n’approuverait pas.

St. Mark était à environ une heure du ranch et Pamela passa la majeure partie du trajet à tenir son bras blessé contre son corps, de fines rides de douleurs gravées autour de sa bouche. Elle ne semblait pas vouloir discuter. Trop occupée à s’inquiéter pour son mari, imagina Tommy. Le parking était plein aux deux tiers quand ils arrivèrent. Alors qu’il garait le pick-up, il jeta un regard à Pamela.

— Voulez-vous que je revienne vous chercher plus tard, Mama ?

Elle lui adressa un froncement de sourcils.

— Luke a dit que tu restais. Je pense que Noah est impatient d’avoir un peu de compagnie masculine. Il s’en sert comme excuse pour prétendre qu’il ne sait pas qu’une partie de poker se déroule.

La mâchoire de Tommy chuta. Les dames de l’église jouaient au poker ?

— S’il vous plaît, dites-moi que ma mère n’en fait pas partie.

Pamela ricana en tendant la main vers la poignée de la portière.

— Elle est l’une des meilleures joueuses que nous ayons. Cette femme est un requin aux cartes. Les autres disent que nous avons amassé plus d’argent depuis qu’elle est arrivée qu’en plus de six mois.

Tommy se sentit un peu étourdi.

— Mais elle ne vient que depuis trois semaines.

— Oui, dit Pamela d’un air grave. Comme je le disais, un requin aux cartes.

Elle jeta un regard à son visage.

— N’aie pas l’air si choqué, fiston. C’est comme du point de croix, mais avec des cartes.

— Mais vous pariez dans la maison de Dieu, dit-il faiblement.

— Avec des billets de Monopoly, le rassura-t-elle. Puis nous nous mettons d’accord pour le convertir en donation pour réparer le toit de l’église. Tout est rigoureusement contrôlé. Les hommes n’aiment pas trop qu’on dépense l’argent réservé à la bière.

Incrédule, Tommy secoua la tête. Il contourna le pick-up afin de l’aider à sortir et attendit qu’elle retrouve son équilibre. Elle lui fit un sourire rayonnant, les rides de son visage se détendant alors qu’ils se dirigeaient vers la porte latérale de l’église.

— C’est beaucoup plus amusant que de piquer une aiguille dans un vieux tissu abîmé. J’aurais aimé trouver cette église il y a des années.

— Pas étonnant que ma mère aime autant venir ici, songea-t-il, plus pour lui-même que pour Pamela. Elle a toujours détesté les ateliers de couture et de cuisine.

— Les parents surprennent toujours leurs enfants, déclara sagement Pamela. Maintenant, laisse-moi trouver ces dames et tu pourras tenir compagnie au pasteur.

Tommy lança un regard à Pamela, mais elle avançait déjà. Cependant, il n’était pas dupe. Jamais rien n’échappait à cette femme. Lui ouvrant la porte, il la suivit tandis qu’elle entrait dans la pièce où une demi-douzaine de femmes était déjà autour de la table, sa mère parmi elles. Tommy sourit à la vue des billets de Monopoly. Evelyn aperçut son fils et baissa la tête en rougissant violemment. Ses lèvres se plissèrent. C’était la première fois de mémoire d’homme qu’il voyait sa mère embarrassée. Surprise prête à parier dans une église. Evelyn n’allait jamais surmonter cela.

— Tommy ?

Une main posée sur son épaule le fit sursauter. Tommy eut une conscience aiguë de l’eau de cologne épicée de Noah et de son corps chaud contre son dos. Il se figea comme un lapin effrayé, pris entre l’objet de ses fantasmes et sa mère. Le seul petit réconfort fut que sa mère semblait encore plus mal à l’aise que lui avec les yeux du pasteur posés sur elle.

Pamela se tourna pour regarder le pasteur par-dessus l’épaule de Tommy.

— Bonjour, Noah, dit-elle gaiement. Nous sommes sur le point de commencer le point de croix alors si vous voulez vous échapper maintenant…

Il soupira, son souffle chatouillant l’oreille de Tommy.

— Je ne sais pas ce qui est le pire. Le fait que vous jouiez ou que vous me mentiez éhontément, Mama.

— Pasteur Taylor, comment pouvez-vous dire une chose pareille ? s’exclama-t-elle dans une moue indignée. Maintenant oust. Emmenez ce joli garçon et allez parler de choses d’hommes tandis que ces gentilles dames et moi allons parler… de choses que vous n’avez pas besoin d’entendre.

— Viens Tommy.

La main de Noah glissa sur sa taille pour l’éloigner.

— Sauvons-nous avant qu’elles nous corrompent encore plus.

— Chut maintenant, dit Pamela en souriant et les poussant pratiquement hors de la pièce. Je vous vois plus tard. Amusez-vous bien les garçons.

Maintenant, ça allait trop loin devant sa mère. Il se retourna pour lui jeter un regard noir, mais elle lui ferma la porte au nez. Quand il se tourna, Noah lui souriait.

— Je ne m’attendais pas à te voir aujourd’hui, dit-il en faisant signe à Tommy d’avancer dans le couloir, le conduisant dans une petite cuisine. Veux-tu un thé ou un soda ?

— Euh… un soda, ça ira, bafouilla Tommy.

Bon Dieu ! Il présenta des excuses silencieuses aux cieux pour l’utilisation du nom du Seigneur. Il allait vraiment devoir se préparer mentalement à être près de cet homme.

Noah ouvrit la porte du réfrigérateur et inspecta le contenu.

— Je peux t’offrir un soda ou un Dr Pepper, informa-t-il.

— Un soda, s’il te plaît.

Tommy tendit la main vers la canette, réprimant un frisson quand leurs doigts se frôlèrent doucement et il s’assit à la table de cuisine. C’était une petite pièce blanche, n’accueillant qu’une table et des chaises. Des tasses et des soucoupes étaient disposées sur un plateau, vraisemblablement prêtes pour le moment où ces dames auraient fini de ‘piquer’. C’était beaucoup plus facile d’y penser comme ça. L’idée de sa mère en train de parier était juste trop.

— Comment va Greg ? demanda Noah. Je ne suis pas allé le voir depuis quelques jours. Il semblait aller bien la dernière fois que je l’ai vu.

— Le patron va très bien.

Tommy sourit à la pensée du père de Luke la dernière fois qu’il l’avait vu. Il avait longtemps été dans un état critique, mais contre toute attente, Greg Murray commençait à remonter la pente, bien qu’il ne soit pas encore assez stable pour le triple pontage.

— Et Luke et Simon ? Comment vont-ils ? s’enquit Noah.

Tommy fronça légèrement les sourcils. Noah savait comment ils allaient, les ayant vus il y a quelques jours.

— Ils vont bien et Chuck aussi, dit-il sèchement. Veux-tu des nouvelles des chevaux ?

Noah lui adressa un regard surpris puis eut un rire triste.

— Ils étaient probablement les prochains sur ma liste, admit-il, l’air embarrassé.

— Je n’aurais jamais pensé que tu avais des problèmes pour trouver un sujet de conversation, dit Tommy avec un sourire narquois.

— Je ne pense pas que nous ayons eu une conversation seuls auparavant, lui fit remarquer Noah, ses doigts essuyant inconsciemment les gouttes de condensation sur la canette de soda.

Incapable de détourner les yeux des longs doigts de Noah caressant la canette, Tommy se lécha les lèvres.

— Ne fais pas ça !

Tommy leva le regard.

— Quoi ? demanda-t-il, confus.

Les yeux sombres de Noah étaient fixés sur sa bouche.

— Ne te lèche pas les lèvres comme ça. C’est distrayant.

— Je n’ai pas… Je…

Tommy s’arrêta, incapable de terminer sa phrase, se léchant à nouveau nerveusement les lèvres.

Noah émit un bruit sourd du fond de sa gorge.

— Tommy Bradley, tu es un allumeur.

— Ce n’est pas ce que je veux, répondit honnêtement Tommy, déconcerté par la réaction de Noah.

— Je le sais, et c’est ce qui te rend si séduisant.

Tommy fut choqué quand Noah se pencha et couvrit sa main de la sienne. Il tenta de l’enlever. Et si sa mère les voyait se tenir la main, si n’importe qui les voyait ? Noah refusa de la laisser partir.

— M’apprécies-tu ? demanda sans ménagements le pasteur.

— Je… euh… tu es… mon pasteur, répondit faiblement Tommy.

Cela provoqua des yeux au ciel.

— Écoute, commença Noah. Je ne vais pas te mentir. Je suis attiré par toi, Tommy. Et je sais que je t’attire.

Tommy jeta un œil à la porte de la cuisine, tirant pour récupérer sa main. Et si quelqu’un entrait ?

Noah lui lança un regard compréhensif et relâcha sa main.

— Je sais que tu n’es pas sorti du placard, dit-il plus calmement. Luke le sait, n’est-ce pas ?

— Et Simon maintenant, ajouta Tommy en déglutissant péniblement. C’est tout. Comment as-tu su que j’étais… ?

Il s’interrompit, ne voulant même pas dire le mot ici. Il était aveuglé par Noah qui le déshabillait du regard.

— Mon gaydar ne se trompe jamais.

La confiance de Noah était agaçante. Tommy fut tenté de lui dire qu’il était hétéro juste pour exploser sa bulle de suffisance.

— Mes parents…, murmura Tommy, résistant à l’envie de faire sortir sa langue.

— Ne savent pas, acquiesça Noah. Je sais.

— Ils pensent que je suis hétéro. Je veux m’éloigner, trouver un endroit où je pourrais…

Il laissa sa phrase en suspens.

— Être toi-même ? suggéra Noah, ses yeux doux posés sur son visage.

— Ils me rejetteront s’ils le découvrent.

— As-tu déjà eu une relation avec un homme, Tommy ?

Celui-ci secoua la tête.

— Je n’ai même jamais embrassé un homme ni personne du reste.

Noah parut surpris.

— Personne ?

— Je n’en ai pas eu l’opportunité. Je ne me suis révélé nulle part et je ne connais aucun gay excepté Luke et Simon et ce n’est pas comme si… eh bien, ils sont totalement exclusifs.

— Oui, ils le sont. Je n’ai jamais rencontré un couple aussi uni. Tu connais quelques gays de plus maintenant que tu viens dans mon église.

— Tout comme mes parents, dit Tommy en haussant les épaules. Je n’aurais jamais pensé voir cela un jour. Pourquoi viennent-ils ici ?

Secouant la tête, Noah répondit :

— Tu sais que je ne peux pas te le dire.

Ses yeux s’adoucirent.

— Mais je peux te dire que tu devrais essayer de leur parler.

Tommy le fixa avec incrédulité.

— As-tu essayé de parler avec ma mère ? Elle a applaudi quand le pasteur Tony a dit que tous les pédés devaient brûler en enfer.

— Applaudi ?

Au haussement de sourcils de Noah, Tommy se tortilla.

— Bon, elle était d’accord.

— Parle-leur, Tommy. Ils se sentent vraiment mal de ce qui est arrivé à Greg et Pamela.

— Mais pas à Luke et Simon, lui fit remarquer Tommy.

Noah laissa échapper un soupir.

— Je pense que les gens ont besoin de temps. Tu ne peux pas t’attendre à ce qu’ils changent du jour au lendemain.

— Je n’attends rien des gens d’ici. Plus maintenant.

Tommy ne put contenir l’amertume dans sa voix. En ce qui le concernait, il lui tardait de tourner le dos à sa maison d’enfance. Il n’avait eu que de bons moments à La Vache Perdue, mis à part la frustration de ses sentiments pour Luke, mais il ne donnerait même pas l’heure aux gens de la ville.

— C’était une période difficile, convint Noah.

Tommy dut ravaler ses paroles acerbes. Noah n’avait aucune idée de ce dont il parlait. Puis il le regarda, le regarda vraiment, et vit la compréhension dans ses yeux. Noah était un homme gay, noir et fier de l’être, vivant au Texas.

— Était-ce mauvais ? demanda-t-il maladroitement.

— Assez horrible, acquiesça facilement Noah, nullement dérangé par la question.

Tommy ouvrit et referma la bouche, ne sachant pas vraiment quoi dire.

— Peut-être te le raconterai-je un jour, dit Noah en tapotant sa main. Veux-tu un autre verre ? J’ai quelques biscuits aussi.