Sunday, 21 August 2016

Have You Read Chance to be King?



After working nonstop for two years, actor Eric Pawlowski desperately needs a respite from his grueling schedule and the crippling migraines that come with it. Thinking that a few weeks in a secluded cottage is just the thing, his vacation gets off to a rough start when he almost mows down the only other guy who lives on the remote road. Fortunately Thomas is quick to forgive, and soon he, Eric, and Eric's two dogs are palling around like they've known each other for years.

But when Eric witnesses Thomas coldly order a lost stranger off his property, he starts to question how well he knows him. Despite a mutual attraction that has Eric cursing every time a well-meaning member of the nearby small town interrupts their attempts to get intimate, Eric wonders if acting on his desire for Thomas will get him involved in a situation he shouldn't be in. When his rented cabin catches fire in the middle of the night and the firemen call it arson, it confirms Eric’s suspicions.

To keep Eric with him, it's up to Thomas to come clean about who he is... and his involvement in a decade-old web of tragedy and revenge into which Eric has unwittingly walked.


MOCKING, ERIC thought as he approached the roadside bar. That damn arm of the neon red cowboy is definitely mocking me.

Eric cursed loudly, breaking the silence in the truck as he realized that, according to the directions, he’d not only missed the track to the cottage but now had to turn the vehicle around to find a small, almost nonexistent road in total darkness.

Toby whined hopefully in Eric’s ear as the truck slowed down to pull in to the parking lot. Eric sighed. He was as anxious to get out of the truck and stretch his legs as his dogs were.

“Not long now, boy, I promise.” At least I hope not.

He reached back to scratch Toby behind the ears, feeling the dog lean forward to try to lick his face.

Eric pushed him away as he flicked the indicators and pulled in to the parking lot. He should have been doing this journey in the daylight, but filming had overrun the previous day, and he’d been too tired to get moving as early as planned.

In his haste and fatigue, Eric swung the truck’s wheel too sharply and almost ran over a man standing by a dark-colored SUV. The man only saved himself by leaping to the side. He slammed into the vehicle hard enough to make it shudder before sliding into an ungainly heap on the ground.

“Fuck!” Eric jumped out of his truck to see if the guy was hurt. “You okay, dude? I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you standing there.” Eric leaned over to offer him a hand.

The man scowled as Eric pulled him to his feet. “You make a habit of trying to kill total strangers?”

Eric ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Biting back the urge to make a snappy response, he said, “Only when I’m exhausted, lost, and shoulda stopped driving two hours ago.”

“Lost, huh?” The man was brushing off his ass. “Where are you supposed to be going?”

Now that he wasn’t so angry, the stranger’s voice was a smooth, quiet drawl, and although he was a few inches shorter than Eric, he still had to be just over six foot. Nice.

“Silver Lake. I missed the turn in the dark.”

“Why do you want the lake?”

The man’s guarded reply set Eric back a bit. Not sure of the reason for the sudden tension, Eric looked away. “I’m renting a cottage there. Small place: one bedroom and a fireplace, according to the description. I meant to get here in the light, but I was late leaving LA, and then the dogs needed a run….” Eric trailed off, aware he was rambling.

“I know the place,” the man admitted.

“My name’s Eric. Eric Pawlowski.” Eric stuck out his hand again, and they shook hands, the other man wincing as Eric pressed against the scraped skin on his palm. “Sorry. Is your hand all right?”

“It’s fine, just a little graze. My name’s Thomas, Thomas Clay. If you want, I can direct you back to the cottage.”

“That would be great. I’m beat.” On cue, Eric yawned. In the dim light, he could see Thomas frowning.

“Sure you’re awake enough to drive?”

Trying to suppress another yawn, Eric said, “Not really, but me and the dogs have had a long day, and we just want some food and a bed for the night.”

Thomas looked into Eric’s truck where Millie and Toby, his chocolate Labradors, were slumped over the back seat, looking disgruntled and bored. “Nice dogs,” he said admiringly. “Follow me. I’ll show you where it is.”

Eric started to ask, “Are you sure?” but it came out as a loud yawn instead.

Thomas laughed. It was a nice laugh, deep and throaty, and would’ve provoked an answering response in Eric if only he could have stopped the damn yawning.

“Yeah, I’m sure. You’ll be asleep standing up if we hang around any longer. Just give me a minute to say good-bye to my friends.”

Eric nodded his agreement and slid into the driver’s seat of his car, murmuring, “Not long now, kids.”

Toby gave a derisive snort, and even Millie put her head down and refused to acknowledge Eric. He scratched behind their ears by way of an apology and then leaned back, closing his eyes as he fought a losing battle with sleep. He jumped at a rap at the window, and he opened his eyes to see Thomas, holding a box.

“Sure you’re okay to drive?” Thomas asked.

Eric nodded wearily and started the engine. The SUV’s hazard lights flashed, and Thomas got in. Within a couple of minutes, Eric was following the vehicle down the road, cranking the window wide to let the cool evening breeze blow across his face—anything to stay awake long enough to get to his destination.

After a couple of miles, the vehicle in front slowed down. Eric followed as his guide turned left onto what, in the dark, appeared to be little more than a dirt road. He was grateful for Thomas’s assistance because he knew he’d have had little chance of finding the track himself.

They stopped outside a building, and Eric looked eagerly at his new home, but the lack of light made it impossible to see much in the dark, despite the lights from the two vehicles. Thomas got out of his SUV and walked toward Eric. Eric switched off the engine and got out of the truck, trying and failing to suppress yet another yawn.

“We’re here,” Thomas said in his deep drawl. Any other time Eric might have found it sexy; now he just wanted to hit the hay. First, though, the dogs needed to stretch their legs, and they all needed some food.

Eric opened the door to let the dogs have their freedom. Toby was out in a flash, Millie following at a more sedate pace. After a few minutes of chasing each other in relief at being out of the truck, they sniffed at their rescuer and then lost interest, far more excited by the sharp night scents along the track.

After watching them briefly, Thomas said, “They’ll be fine for a few minutes. No one comes along here much except the odd fisherman, and that’s only by permission of the landowner. Have you got the key?”

Eric nodded. “Uh-huh.” He ducked into the car and felt around in the glove compartment until he found the envelope containing the key. “Here it is.”

Thomas held out his hand for it. At Eric’s hesitation—Thomas was a complete stranger, after all—he said, “I know the cottage. Let me get you in and the lights on, and then I’ll leave you in peace.”

Too tired to argue, Eric handed over the key and watched as Thomas opened the cottage door, unerringly finding the light switch in the total blackness. Eric dug out a duffel bag containing some overnight gear and a small amount of food for the hounds, wishing he’d thought to pick up some premade food for himself en route; he felt way too tired to cook. He let the dogs explore, getting rid of their pent-up energy, while Thomas prepared the cottage.

The cottage blazed with light by the time Eric and the dogs stumbled into the kitchen. Thomas emerged from what Eric assumed was the basement, his hands grubby.

“There’ll be some hot water for you to wash up, but you’ll have to give it a while. You’re a bit low on oil, though.”

“Thanks. I can deal with the oil tomorrow.” Eric yawned again.

Thomas smiled. Eric was able to see it properly now they were in the light. Even though his eyes were half-closed, Eric realized Thomas was a good-looking man. Hell, he was more than good-looking—he was stunning. Damn, wasn’t it just typical, Eric felt too tired to ask him to stay for a coffee?

“I brought you stew.” Thomas pointed to the box on the kitchen table. “And the coffee pot is on.”

Eric moaned slightly in appreciation. “You’re an angel, that’s what you are. A beautiful angel.” Tiredness had obviously got the better of his tongue. “Let me find the money.” He dug in his pocket for loose change.

Thomas’s smile slipped a little, but all he said was “Buy me a beer another time. I’ll swing by in the morning to check you’re okay. Night, Eric.”

Eric bade Thomas good night and poured the dogs’ kibble into bowls. Fifteen minutes later the three of them had sacked out on the large bed, their stomachs full, wrapped in blankets against the chill and oblivious to their new surroundings.

THE NOISE was what initially penetrated his sleep. Or rather, the lack of familiar noise. There was no quiet thrum of the air conditioning or the sounds of his maid, Maria, as she swore at the vacuum cleaner. Instead he heard birdsong and Millie, yipping and twitching in her dreams.

Eric hauled himself out of bed, wincing a little as he felt the twinges in his lower back. Thank goodness he wasn’t going to sleep on this bed for any length of time, or he might have to buy a new mattress. This one was fine for most people, he guessed, but Eric’s work had wrecked his back, and he usually slept on an orthopedic mattress.

Toby sat up expectantly as Eric got dressed. He grinned and snapped his fingers. The dogs leaped off the bed and barked hopefully around his feet.

“Yeah, come on, let’s explore.”

They left the cottage and followed what Eric hoped was the path to the lake. When he’d looked for somewhere to take a vacation, it had been essential to find a place with plenty of land so that he could walk his dogs. This place, with the whole of the area around the lake accessible, had seemed ideal, and more to the point, it was private land, so Eric didn’t have to worry about unwanted attention.

It was a beautiful morning, before the heat of the day really got a chance to set in. The air was still slightly crisp, and Eric shivered a little in his thin T-shirt, wishing he’d brought his hoodie. Deciding against going back for it, he walked a bit quicker. He would probably go for a run most mornings if the paths were safe enough. They reached the lake within five minutes, Toby barking joyfully as he scattered some of the birds feeding at the lakeside.

“You’re supposed to make nice with the locals, not frighten them to death,” Eric scolded him.

The dog gave Eric a sloppy grin, his large tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, and ran around in circles. Millie ignored them as she raced ahead.

Eric paused for a minute to take in his surroundings. The lake was huge, surrounded by reeds and banked in places by sandy beaches. A short note in the paperwork said it was suitable to swim in, and Eric had brought his trunks hopefully. There seemed to be a narrow path following the shoreline. Eric called to the dogs and set off to follow it. He didn’t necessarily want to explore all of it today, but he did think the dogs would benefit from a long walk after being cooped up in the truck for most of the previous day.

In places the overhanging branches meant Eric needed to duck, one of the disadvantages of being well over six feet tall. The dogs, however, had no such issues, and they plowed ahead eagerly. Their enthusiasm meant he lost sight of them until he reached a clearer spot in the trees. Eric could hear them splashing up ahead and smiled to himself. Millie was a terror for getting in the water, be it puddle or pond. Toby was more of a wimp and would dance around the edges before finally getting up the courage to venture in.

Eric finally reached the shoreline, to see Millie in the water as he expected. However, the man playing with her as she swam around was a surprise. He’d obviously been swimming, because he was bare from the waist up and—oh fuck—he was a vision: lean muscles, firm abs, and dark nipples against tanned skin. Yummy. Not that Eric was looking closely. At all. Okay, maybe it didn’t take much for Eric to react to a gorgeous man dancing half-naked in cold water.

Eric squinted as he looked a bit closer. Wasn’t this his rescuer from last night? Tim… Tony… Thomas… that was it, Thomas.

“Morning,” Eric drawled as he watched them play. “Hope she’s not bothering you too much.”

As Eric spoke, Thomas looked up and stopped horsing around. Millie gave a disappointed bark as she paddled and nudged Thomas’s hand hopefully. Thomas ran his hands through his hair to get the drips out of his face, his muscles rippling in a most distracting way. Eric’s cock was quite appreciative and twitched in his sweats.

“I don’t get too many dogs rushing to join me in my morning swim.”

“Sorry, she never can resist getting in the water.”

Eric was trying hard to concentrate on the conversation, but really, most of his attention was taken by the view in front of him. He spent his days surrounded by handsome men and beautiful women, but this man took his breath away. His dark blond hair curled damply around his ears, and his bright blue eyes sparkled in amusement.

Damn, could I get more girly?


Eric blinked. “Uh… yes?” He’d been so busy staring at the water droplets running down Thomas’s chest… and—oh, are they freckles? Eric couldn’t tell from this distance.

“Earth to Eric?”

He dragged his gaze away reluctantly from Thomas’s body to his face. Not that it was any less distracting with those eyes…. Fuck, those eyes.


Thomas was smirking at him unashamedly. “Would you mind calling your dog back? I’m getting cold now, and I’d like to get out.”

Eric stared at him stupidly for a minute, and then his brain finally got on board with the conversation. “Yes… I mean, sorry. Millie, come here girl.”

Fortunately Millie seemed to be more intelligent than her owner and obediently swam toward the sandy beach. She got out and shook herself—all over Thomas’s towel, which lay folded neatly on the sand.

“Millie! Away! I’m so sorry, Thomas!” Eric tried to lead his soaking-wet dog away from the towel, but Millie thought it was a game and jumped around, soaking the towel even more as the water flew from her fur.

Rolling his eyes, Thomas waded out of the water and picked up his soggy towel. Toby growled and latched onto the end of it, obviously wanting to get into the game too. The harder Thomas tugged, the firmer Toby held on to it.

“Toby, let go!” Eric said firmly.

Toby just held on tighter, growling and shaking his head, a huge doggy smile on his face.

“Jesus Christ! If I’d known I was gonna end up this sweaty, I’d have done this first and then gone for a swim,” Thomas panted as he slowly lost ground on the amount of towel in his hands.

Eric told himself he was not thinking about the mental image of Thomas, sweat droplets trickling down his chest that Eric was reaching forward to lick slowly…. No, he wasn’t.

Eric was hanging on to Thomas’s end of the towel, and the two men pulled together. Millie was wagging her tail furiously on the sidelines, thinking it was a great game. “I’ve given up apologizing for my dogs. We normally run away before anyone can identify us.”

“Good idea. Toby, drop!”

Thomas stopped tugging. Eric’s jaw dropped as Toby let go of the towel at Thomas’s sharp order. The dog sat back on his haunches, looking downcast.

“How did you get him to do that?”

Thomas grinned at him. “Mind-ray telepathy, dude. I told him I’d chop his balls off if he didn’t let go.”

Startled, and more than a little concerned for the well-being of his dog, Eric edged a little closer to his pets.

Chuckling outright at Eric’s protective expression, Thomas tried to dry himself with the only section of the towel not mangled by Toby’s teeth.

“Please tell me you were joking. Anyway, he’s already been done.”

Thomas looked confused. “Been done?”

“Had his balls chopped,” Eric whispered with his hands over his dog’s ears.

“Ah.” Thomas nodded sagely. “I’ll have to think of a new threat.” He shivered in the early-morning air, rubbing at his arms as goose bumps dappled his skin in a most distracting way. “I think I’d better get back to my house before I freeze to death.”

Telling himself he wasn’t disappointed, Eric asked, “Where do you live?” He couldn’t see any buildings in the immediate vicinity of the lake apart from his cottage.

“Over that way a little.”

Thomas waved a vague hand in the direction of some trees. Wherever it was, it must have been well set back, because Eric couldn’t see a thing. His stomach suddenly growled loudly, breaking the silence.

Thomas chuckled. “Better go feed the beast before it breaks out.”

“Fuck you,” Eric said easily.

Thomas shook his head as he laughed. “Not this time, cowboy. I never put out on a first date.”

Did this mean he’d been considering putting out? Eric really hoped so. He’d not expected a holiday hookup, but he wouldn’t be averse to the idea. Deciding not to push it this time, he whistled for the dogs, who were sniffing at something farther down the beach.

“See you later?” he asked.

Thomas nodded, but he didn’t make any promises.

After saying good-bye, Eric moved off toward the cottage. He definitely needed breakfast.

Thomas didn’t seem in any rush to move, though, despite his previous statement, because Eric could feel his gaze on his back for quite a while. He chanced a look back. Thomas stared, watching Eric leave.

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