Release Date: August 12, 2009
Publisher: Torquere Books
Publisher Link: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2114
Blurb: When Jay's daughter is molested in his ex-wife's care, Jay has to fight to take custody of Emmy. But before he can take her in he has to clean up his act, get a job, an apartment, go into therapy, and prove he isn't an alcoholic. And that isn't the hardest part of all of it. To succeed, Jay has to come to terms with his own dark past and learn how to finally put those inner demons to rest. Rick was abused as a child and always told himself he never wanted to date anyone like his father -- out of work, quick to temper, unable to get his life together. As a young man Rick couldn't help falling in love with Jay, but he knew better than to do anything about it. Jay was his best friend, not what Rick needed in a partner. Now, though, Jay is doing his best for his daughter, overcoming his past and moving forward with his life. Being with Jay might just be Rick's undoing, if he can find the courage to risk his heart.
Jay stopped. For a long moment he just stared at Rick's front door, at the whorls of varnished wood and the design blocked into it. His daughter, held tightly in one arm, murmured drowsily and rubbed her face on his shoulder before drifting back into slumber. He turned and stepped off the porch, retreating down the driveway.
Over-reacting. He was over-reacting, and he shouldn't bother Rick.
At the end of the driveway, he turned and strode back to the front door. He wasn't over-reacting. This was his daughter.
He knocked, then waited, shifting from foot to foot. Emmy was only eight. She pressed against him, her hands tucked up between their bodies, strawberry curls tickling his nose. The air was cool and damp from the ocean. It prickled against his skin, chilling the thin sheen of sweat on Jay's skin.
The door opened. Rick stood there in flannel pants and a black T-shirt, rubbing the heel of his hand over tired eyes. "Hey. What's up?" His voice, normally smooth, was roughened with sleep.
"Can we stay here tonight?" Jay tried to keep his gaze level, tried to keep the plea from entering his eyes. He doubted he succeeded.
Rick's gaze cleared a little. Thick lashes lowered over hazel irises as he took in Jay and Emmy with a quick sweep, then stepped back out of the way. "Yeah. Sure. Come in." Dark brown hair fell over his forehead, shadowing high cheekbones and a strong jaw.
Jay shifted his daughter and slipped in sideways. "Thank you."
"Sure, sure." Rick glanced around as if seeing his house for the first time. Jay glanced around, too, not sure where they were going to put Emmy.
The front door opened into the living room, where a couch and a love seat faced each other from opposite walls, bracketing the sliding glass door. On Jay's left, a hall ran down to a bathroom and two bedrooms. One bedroom had long ago been turned into an exercise room. The other room was Rick's, and had only one bed set in the middle.
There was nowhere really appropriate for Jay's baby girl. It wasn't right to bring her here to stay the night anyway; if his ex-wife's lawyers found out, he'd likely lose his visitation rights.
He just didn't know what else to do.
"Come on." Rick closed the door behind them, turning the deadbolts with a quiet click before heading toward the bedroom. "We'll let her sleep."
Jay nodded, following. It wasn't right, but he was out of options.
They tucked her into the middle of Rick's big bed, safe and sound. Jay didn't let himself wonder where he and Rick might sleep. He was just grateful that Emmy had a place.
Once she was thoroughly ensconced, the two men headed back into the living room. Jay dropped into the couch. Rick sat down carefully on the love seat, shaggy hair mussed, big eyes watchful. It was near midnight; he must have been sleeping.
Jay glanced over, gaze skimming across a fit body. Rick was only an inch shorter than Jay's six foot three. His shoulders weren't quite as broad, his musculature not quite as stocky. Constant martial arts kept him well muscled and graceful. His skin was sleep-pink. Rick leaned his elbows on his knees and simply waited for an explanation.
An explanation. Anger and horror crowded in Jay's stomach, twisting strong muscles into knots. He couldn't sit there and watch Rick watching him. Shame and disgust forced him to look away. He should have known. Somehow, he should have realized something was wrong--
Jay braced his head in his hands and stared down between his booted feet. He took a deep breath, anxiety crawling up over his shoulders. "Candy has a new boyfriend," he murmured at last, and felt a near-hysterical laugh bubble in his chest. He crushed it ruthlessly. His vision swam, breathing choked, but he blinked away the tears.
His baby girl.
"Emmy... had a nightmare tonight." Maybe he was over-reacting. Maybe it didn't mean what he thought.
Shouldn't have bothered Rick.
Shouldn't have trusted that Candy would keep his baby safe.
"Jay?" Rick asked softly.
He flinched and looked up, only then aware of how long he'd been silent. "Emmy had a nightmare," he started again, his voice no more than a whisper. "And when she came to wake me up, I reached for her and -- and she--" He took another breath to steady himself. "She jumped back. When I asked her what was wrong, she said she -- didn't want--" His baby girl, and he hadn't known. He should have known. Stopped it somehow. "--didn't want me to touch her like Candy's boyfriend does," he finished, barely, spitting the words out.
Explanation as close to complete as he could manage, Jay looked back down, hands gripping his skull.
"Oh, Jesus," Rick breathed. "Did she -- did she mean--?"
"I don't know. I didn't ask. She was crying, and I didn't want to upset her further." He shook. He tried to breathe calmly, but wasn't successful.
Water ran, and a moment later the couch dipped beside him. Rick held a glass in his field of vision.
Water. Fucking water. Why did everyone think that would help? Coughing? Give a person water. Hysterical? Water. Crying? Water. Jay took it anyway and sipped, trying to drag his emotions back under control.
His baby girl. He could rip the bastard's face right off.
"We'll figure something out," Rick said softly. "Stay here as long as you need to. We'll figure it out. She'll be okay, now."
Jay nodded, grateful. He was only barely holding it together. He didn't have any way to repay Rick's kindness, but he didn't need it. They'd been friends for too long, been through too much. He took another sip.
A hand landed on his shoulder, rubbing over skin bared by his tank top. "It'll be okay," Rick repeated.