Julian: I’ve been in love with my best friend since forever. Okay, fine. Like, kindergarten. It started out platonic, obviously, but then became… nope. Still platonic. The problem is that Parker Ellis has been straight since forever. And that makes it difficult to convince him the two of us are meant to be together. And now there’s no point. All is lost. He’s gone and gotten engaged to his high-school sweetheart which means I have to grin and bear it while pretending to be the happy, supportive best man while he prepares to commit his life to a woman I can’t even fault. She’s great. We’ve all been friends forever. I know he’ll be happy with Erin, just not… just not as happy as he could be with me.
Parker: I’ll admit. Sometimes I press the easy button. Like when Julian Thick had offered me half his sandwich back in grade school after noticing I didn’t have any food. Or when I’d needed a date to homecoming in tenth grade and Erin told me she was it. Or when I’d used the one thing that came easy to me, skiing, to get my college tuition paid for. Or when Erin had showed back up in my life six months ago and told it was time to marry and start a family… But for the first time in my life I’m facing something that’s not at all easy. It’s my wedding weekend and I’ve just been left at the altar. Not only that, but when my best friend whisks me away to drown my sorrows in a snowy cabin in Aster Valley, I accidentally discover Julian’s been keeping secrets. Big secrets. The kind of secrets that lead to hot experimental kisses in front of a blazing fire, tenative physical exploration in a way I’d never imagined before, and the kind of intimate, true confessions I’d never even dreamed of between me and the one person who’s always been my true home. But after twenty-plus years of thinking of Jules as my friend without benefits, is it truly possible to change who we are to each other? There’s no easy button this time, but I’m willing to do the work. I only wonder if Julian is ready to trust I really mean it.
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ExcerptPROLOGUE Julian It wasn’t the first time Parker had snuck into my house in the middle of the night, but it was the worst. He was already crying, and his clothes were covered in dirt. I’d left the bathroom light on by accident, and when the sound of the window woke me up, there was enough light for me to make out the smudges on his sweatshirt and debris in his hair. Parker Ellis was awkward at the age of fourteen—tall and scrawny, all elbows and knees—but he was my awkward. “C’mere,” I croaked, opening the covers so he could get warm. I was still half-asleep. Normally, I would have been annoyed at getting my bed dirty, but I could tell how upset he was. As soon as he dove beneath the covers, I dropped the comforter and pulled him in close. He smelled like the cold night air and the dry leaves he’d probably had to wade through to get to my window. “What happened? What’d they do?” Parker’s parents were assholes. They’d been assholes the entire time I’d known him, but it hadn’t been until the last two years of elementary school that he’d started sneaking over to my house when things got really bad. In the beginning, it had been loud parties lasting late into the night. But then his dad had gotten a job with lots of travel. There was less partying, but there was also more neglect. Parker’s mom had gone out with friends instead of having people over. She’d forget to get groceries or feed him dinner. Once my parents had figured out what was happening, they’d given him an open invitation to come to our house for meals anytime. They also knew he spent the night often, but since they had a “no sleepovers on school nights” policy, they simply looked the other way when he snuck in on a weeknight. This had been going on for years, but lately, it had gotten worse. Now that we were in middle school, his parents felt like Parker was old enough to be left home alone overnight, sometimes for weeks at a time. His mom had gotten jealous of his dad’s travel and had insisted on joining him on his trips, leaving Parker on his own in a big empty house with no food and no one to help him with his homework or take him to and from after-school activities. Watching Parker’s parents treat him like shit was the first time I’d realized even a kid from a family with plenty of money could suffer from hunger and neglect. It wasn’t quite enough for anyone to call Child Protective Services and risk putting him in the system, since he was surrounded by families like ours who would take him in and make sure he had what he needed, but it still sucked. “I hate them,” he growled, snuggling in closer to me for warmth. His skin was cold and prickly with goose bumps. “I hate them so fucking much.” We had an important math test tomorrow, and Parker had been over earlier that afternoon so my sister, Hazel, could help both of us with our review homework. He’d walked home right after dinner the way he usually did when he came home with me after school. “What happened?” I asked again. I rubbed his back through his sweatshirt, trying to help him get warm. Hot tears landed on my neck, and his fingers gripped the thin cotton of my T-shirt. “My key didn’t work. I had to crawl around in the bushes to find that rock thing where we keep a hidden one, but that didn’t work either.” He sniffed and took a breath. “So I waited for Mom to get home, but she never came. And then I walked down to the gas station to use their phone to call her. She said she…” His hand clenched tighter, accidentally catching one of the few hairs on my chest. “She changed the locks because she didn’t trust the house cleaners. But she forgot to tell me, and then… and then she left to go to Chicago with a friend at the last minute. She said not to break a window or I’d have to pay for it. But my English homework is in there, and all my clothes, and…” I was so angry, I wanted to punch something. Parker didn’t have any money. We were fourteen. Every dollar he made trying to mow people’s lawns in summer and shovel snow in winter was spent on buying himself food or other things his parents neglected to provide for him, despite all the money they had. “Did you talk to your dad?” He shook his head. “How can he help? He’s in Florida at a conference. I’m just so embarrassed. I’m sorry for coming over again. I tried to sleep on the chair on the front porch, but it’s too cold without a blanket.” I pulled his face out of my neck and held him by the cheeks. “You listen to me, Parker Ellis,” I hissed. “You never, ever need to sleep outside when I have a warm, safe place for you here. Okay? Don’t you dare think you have to stay there alone when you can stay with me. My parents love you. They wouldn’t want you to stay there by yourself, even if you had a key.” He sniffed again. “Yeah, I know. Okay.” I grumbled about his asshole parents while he nestled back against my shoulder. “I like staying with you,” Parker admitted softly a few minutes later. “Everything’s better when I’m with you.”
Meet Lucy Lennox Lucy Lennox is finally putting good use to that English Lit degree earned way back in the 1900s. She stays up way too late each night reading M/M romance because she is a sucker for a good story.
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