Author: Leigh Jarrett
Genre: Gay Fiction
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Justin clenched his eyes shut, his thoughts suspended somewhere between prayer and hope as he listened to Derek move closer to him. Maybe Sam's rant had stirred something in him.
Don't be a fucking idiot.
Yet his body burgeoned with the dim prospect of Derek's actions when his best friend's hand came to rest on his chest. Strong and heavy. As it had so many times before.
He breathed up into its weight as Derek's thumb stroked the material of his jacket. Deep down, he knew there was no intent beyond friendship, so he bottled the impulse to turn toward Derek, capture his lips, and run his hands through the deep dark curls that were more often than not decorated with drywall dust, wood chips, and colorful stripped casings of electrical wires.
"Hey, about what Sam said ...," Derek mumbled.
"Yeah, what the hell, right?" Justin made an attempt at a laugh but only managed a single exhalation in its place, panic strangling his breath. He hadn't expected Derek to bring up what Sam had said. His breath quickened, fueled by uncertainty.
Derek grunted and laughed, barely audible. "That's our Sam for you."
"Yeah," Justin whispered. "It sure is."
Derek stopped stroking the material of Justin's coat but left his hand where it lay, resting on Justin's chest. He shifted his shoulder and repositioned his pillow. The change in position brought Derek close enough for Justin to feel Derek's warm breath on his cheek.
"You like working with me, don't you? The whole business? Our business. Doing renovations and everything." Derek's hand emphasized each sentence in turn by patting Justin's chest.
"Of course, I do." Justin laughed, the sound erupting short and breathy. "Do you honestly think I'd put up with you otherwise?"
"I'd like to think so," Derek said.
Justin laughed in earnest this time. "Yeah, I suppose. Right back at you. Who else would put up with me singing twenty-four seven?"
"But is that …"
Derek fell silent as he gripped Justin's coat, then smoothed it out.
"Never mind," he mumbled into his pillow.
They must have passed out because Justin found himself being startled awake when Derek coughed, pulled his hand away, and curled up facing away from him.
"You better head over to Nick's tent," Derek said. "I think we fell asleep."
Justin cleared his throat. "Yeah. Right. Sure."
Within moments, he was struggling to gather up his things to share a tent with a man he barely knew, while his body was aching to be held by the one person who'd made it impossible for him to love anyone else. His dream of a wife, a loving home, and children were nothing more than a glimmering illusion. He'd left a string of ex-girlfriends in his wake because of Derek.
Every woman he'd ever had a serious relationship with, eventually backed away, when it became obvious he wasn't capable of committing to them long-term.
As each year passed, he'd come to accept he'd never have a life similar to his parents. Not while Derek continued to have an unrelenting hold on his heart.
Justin slipped out of the tent, paused for a moment, and looked up at the star-filled sky as he clung tight to his motley collection of belongings.
He snorted through a laugh. Wishing on a shooting star was more likely to grant him a release from Derek's hold on him than the course he was currently on.
"You hear that, star," Justin mumbled, almost dropping his pillow as he spun around staring skyward. "Help me let him go." He stumbled to keep his balance until he slammed up against a tree, his back pressed firmly to its ridged bark, steadying the tilt-a-whirl in his head. The nauseating repercussion of suppressing a steadfast heart intent on inciting an absurd unattainable duet between him and Derek.
Justin kicked at an offshoot of root extending from the tree, unsheathing a small section while swearing under his breath. His feelings toward Derek were never going to relinquish their grip on his life. It was a reality he knew was slowly crushing him.
He grunted in aggravation, then took a moment to relieve himself before setting off across the open area surrounding the fire pit. His pillow, sleeping bag, and extra clothes being released, then retrieved. Released—retrieved. Released—retrieved, imitating a pack of rebellious children on a midnight outing, their chaperone too drunk to contain them.
Justin bashed his flashlight against his thigh a few times. It was still acting up, stubbornly refusing to stay lit. He careened onward, undaunted by the obstacle course of discarded beer bottles encircling the fire pit. He stuffed the flashlight into his coat pocket as he arrived fireside.
He stared down at where they'd all been gathered earlier, the warm cheery glow of the firelight uniting them, now dark and cold.
Justin blinked as he willed his eyes to adjust, then staggered along the gravel road leading to the site where Nick had pitched his tent.
He managed to remain on his feet despite the relative darkness.
Arriving with minimal swearing, he pawed at the billowy fabric until he found the tent flap and unzipped it. He looked back over his shoulder toward the direction of Derek's tent.
Their tent. They'd bought it together.
It was where he should be. Their bodies entwined, skin against skin.
Justin lowered his chin to rest on his chest.
It'll never be.
Derek had been acting differently though. Nervous almost.
Go to sleep.
After edging into the empty space on the tent floor, Justin had kicked his boots off, shrugged out of his coat, and shimmied his way into his sleeping bag when Nick spoke.
"Thanks for doing this for me. I know you'd rather be sleeping with Derek."
Like with, with? Or just with?
Justin rolled over and pushed himself up onto one elbow as his gut twisted, tense with apprehension.
He has to be joking.
His ability to make out Nick's features was hindered, given the limited amount of moonlight illuminating the tent. He couldn't be sure without asking.
"What do you mean?" Justin asked.
"I saw the way you were looking at him tonight."
The sound of Nick emitting a short laugh after that statement sent shivers up Justin's spine, prickling his skin. It wasn't a malicious sound necessarily, but it unsettled him. He was Sam's cousin, but Sam hadn't seen him in years, so they didn't know much about him.
"Too bad he's completely oblivious," Nick added as he moved closer to Justin. "He has no idea what he's passing up."
Justin shifted his position and backed away.
There was purpose in Nick's advance.
"Whoa, Nick." Justin raised his hand and pressed it against Nick's bare chest. "I think you've got me all wrong."
"Do I?" Nick snatched Justin's hand from his chest, restraining it, and guided it down his body.
Justin groaned as his hand was thrust into the front of Nick's sweatpants and introduced to Nick's semi-erect cock. He didn't retreat or recoil.
He should have, but he didn't. Likely, due to the excessive amount of alcohol he'd consumed, but maybe not. Inebriation aside, he should have stopped himself from wrapping his fingers around Nick's thick girth, and caressing its warmth, but he didn't.
"Okay," Justin admitted. "Maybe not entirely wrong."
"Thought so," Nick said, then released Justin's arm in order to grapple him closer.
Whoa, hold on.
Justin whipped his hand out from the front of Nick's sweatpants. "I'm not going to sleep with you."
"Why not?" Nick asked. His movements were ardent and determined as he unzipped his own sleeping bag and shrugged out of his sweatpants, then tossed them behind him.
"No." Justin shifted his body until he felt the material of the tent wall straining behind him. He was unable to back up any further.
He shivered as a gust of chill air rushed past the exterior of the tent, permeating his spine and radiating its indifference to his situation, straight through to his chest.
He clenched his hands into fists—prepared.
"Come on," Nick said. "You know you want to."
"Nick, stop," Justin almost shouted as a rough hand fumbled and narrowly succeeded in unzipping the entirety of his sleeping bag.
Justin reached for the zipper, wanting to re-encase himself against the threat but missed, grazing his knuckles on the biting metal teeth before making contact with Nick's arm.
"I'm serious. I'm not interested," Justin said, shoving Nick to push him away, but Nick held steadfast, his much larger frame making him immovable.
(5 stars) "This is truly a heartbreaking story. Leigh Jarrett did a wonderful job in writing this book. I can only imagine how hard to write a story like this was." - Gay Book Reviews
(5 stars) "A story of hurt and recovery that soooo has to be read. For much of it, my heart was thundering. The drama lasts right up to the final pages - awesome." - Sinfully Gay Romance Book Reviews
(5 stars) "You need to read this book! Beautifully and heartbreakingly written." - Alpha Book Club
(5 stars) "I absolutely LOVED this book. The subject matter was intense and rough, but sadly it's very real." - Christina's Bookshelf