Looking to the future begins with forgiving the past.
Cost of Repairs
, Book 2
Barrett McCall once lived like there was no tomorrow. Now the reformed party animal savors each day as a gift. His short order cook job at Dixie’s Cup pays the rent, and he’s content with his sober—if solitary—life.
When a fire leaves him homeless, Dixie’s offer to let him move into her basement apartment puts him on a collision course with her nephew, art teacher Schuyler Rhodes. The heat between them crackles, but in Schuyler’s eyes Barrett recognizes the same demons he exorcised long ago.
Dixie’s kind-hearted offer couldn’t come at a worse time for Schuyler. It’s the anniversary of his teenage cousin Matty’s drowning. Everyone believes it was an accident, but Schuyler knows the truth—and so does the culprit. For fifteen years that truth has burned a hole in his soul…and now it keeps Barrett at arm’s length.
One lingering kiss melts away the barriers between them, but when the other witness to Matty’s death shows up in town, Schuyler is forced into a confrontation that could cost him Barrett’s love—and possibly his own life.
Product WarningsContains a hot man-on-man romance between a slightly uptight art teacher and a free-spirited tattoo-artist-turned-line-cook, a bucket of guilt sprinkled on top of past regrets, and the improper use of bamboo kabob skewers.
Copyright © 2012 A.M. Arthur
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
Awareness began deep in his guts, pushing up in such a way that Schuyler was scrambling for the toilet, even though he wasn’t sure where he was or if a toilet was even close by. Sheets twisted around his legs. Someone grabbed his head and turned it down, where he thought maybe the mattress was, and he really didn’t want to barf on—
“There’s a wastebasket in front of you,” the hand owner said.
He heaved and spilled his guts into the trash can, revisiting the awful combination of bile, chili fries and beer. It stung his eyes and nose, and sweat prickled across his back and shoulders. His vomiting turned to dry heaves. Something new was pressed close to his mouth.
“It’s water. Sip and spit.”
The voice was so familiar, but he didn’t have the energy to wonder who was with him, or whose bed he’d ended up in. It felt like his own. He sipped the warm water, swished it around a bit, then spit. This time he forced sticky eyelids apart. The first thing he saw was the brownish mess at the bottom of his bathroom trash can. Then the can was pulled away, and he saw Barrett, kneeling in front of him, dressed in the same rumpled clothes he’d worn last night.
Barrett traded out the glass of water for a damp washcloth, which he pressed into Schuyler’s hand. “Might want to wipe your face,” he said. Barrett didn’t look angry or worried, just tired.
Schuyler took the cloth and scrubbed at his entire face, as if he could wipe away the disgusting feeling that permeated his body. It had been a long time since he’d shared a hangover with someone else, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do. “Thanks,” he said.
“Paying it forward.”
“Huh?” He started to ask more, but Barrett stood up and moved back a few steps, holding the trash can out in front of him. “I am not cleaning this up, but I’ll stick it in the bathtub for you.”
Schuyler muttered another thanks, then flopped over onto his back. His stomach was tight and thoroughly nauseated and—what the hell? He glanced down and realized, to his complete bewilderment, that he was naked. When had he taken his clothes off? Why had he taken his clothes off? Had Barrett taken his clothes off of him?
He closed his eyes and tried to remember what happened last night. He recalled the party, chatting with Barrett on the deck, then leaving. They ended up at Charlie’s. They ordered a pitcher of Sam Adams, and a plate of chili cheese fries. He was pretty sure they played pool. After that?
Good lord, had they had sex and he didn’t even remember?
Not necessarily. He could have made a mess of his clothes, so Barrett stripped him out of pity for his sheets.
He clenched his butt, testing, but felt nothing and relief hit him in the chest like a fist. He’d experienced the pleasures of anal penetration a few times in college, but nowadays he much preferred to be the one doing the penetrating. His last time hadn’t gone so well, nearly a decade earlier and during a drunken blackout. He didn’t recall the experience itself, only that his partner had been gone when he woke up, and he was incredibly sore for several days afterward. It had begun his longstanding habit of only getting that drunk in the safety and solitude of his own home.
Still, that didn’t preclude the possibility that he’d screwed Barrett.
How the hell was he supposed to ask that question of someone he saw on a semi-regular basis?
The bedroom floorboards creaked. He opened his eyes to see Barrett standing at the foot of his bed, hands in his pockets, seeming perfectly at ease.
“I put Gatorade on your nightstand,” Barrett said. “Drink it and try to eat something later.” The words carried the same resigned weariness as the rest of him.
It alarmed Schuyler for a brand new reason. “Crap, Barrett, did you drink last night?”
He blinked hard several times. “You don’t remember anything, do you?”
“Aw, hell.” Schuyler sat up, feeling suddenly like the world’s biggest jerk. “You were sober for so long. Why did you take me to a bar?”
“I took you to Charlie’s because when we were talking, you gave me the impression of a guy intent on getting hammered and punishing himself for something. I’ve been there, Schuyler. I’ve been the guy who woke up in a stranger’s bed, unable to remember how I got there or if we used condoms, and spent the next three months hoping every HIV test came back negative.”
Schuyler stared, shocked at the perfectly conversational way Barrett said such personal things, as if reciting the various parts of the color wheel. It was a kind of trust that Schuyler didn’t think he deserved. His hangover addled brain had him asking, “Are you?”
“Am I what?”
Barrett looked at him with an irritatingly calm expression. “Does it matter?”
“Only if we screwed.” Schuyler felt like an a-hole for saying it, but dehydration and nausea didn’t do much for his brain-to-mouth censor.
“Well, that’s refreshingly honest. Yes.”
“Yes what?” They had screwed?
“Yes, I’m negative, Schuyler.”
Relief hit him hard, and not only because Schuyler still didn’t know what they’d done last night. He liked Barrett—quite a lot for having only had his first real conversation with the man last night. “So you didn’t drink?”
“Not beer,” Barrett said with a wry smile. “But I may have gone through their entire supply of ginger ale, trying to keep up with you.”
He vaguely recalled Barrett throwing back glasses of something fizzy and amber, and now the picture made more sense. “I’m glad.”
“That I nearly drowned my kidneys in ginger ale?”
Schuyler couldn’t stop a small grin. “No, that you’re still sober. I can be a selfish prick sometimes, but I hate to think I’d ever intentionally sabotage someone’s sobriety.”
“Staying clean is something I fight with every single day, and I’ve had plenty of chances to fall off the wagon that were more tempting than your private pity party.”
He deserved that. “I’m still glad.”