Anthony Talbot is in Anchor Point to visit family, but after two days of strife, he needs a break. A local gay bar is calling his name.
When Chief Noah Jackson sees that red head stroll into the club, he immediately wants him. They’re perfectly matched, and before long, they’re burning up the sheets. Noah can’t get enough. Anthony can’t stay in Oregon for long, but as soon as he leaves, he’s counting down the days until he can fly back for more. And between his increasingly frequent visits, there’s always phone sex, sexting, webcams . . . anything they can get.
But Noah’s got a carefully crafted façade, and Anthony can’t help noticing the slowly forming cracks. The scent of alcohol in the middle of the day. The extra drinks at dinner. The hint of red in his eyes. Anthony knows what it means. He doesn’t want to believe it, but he’s seen this before, and there’s no denying it. If Noah doesn’t get his downward spiral under control, he’s going to lose both his career and the first man he’s ever really loved.
One more minute in the presence of my ex-brother-in-law, and I was going to lose my shit.
My sister and I were two days into a ten-day trip, and I was done. I’d been in a constant state of irritation from the moment we’d parked in front of Clint’s house. Or Travis’s, I guess. Apparently Clint had moved in with him. I didn’t care enough to ask for details.
To be fair, Clint wasn’t doing anything to piss me off. Breathing, maybe. Smiling and acting like nobody in the room remembered anything he’d done. Mandy had made peace with it, but all this baby brother saw was the man who’d hurt my big sister and her kids. That shit didn’t go away overnight.
I was happy for Mandy and especially for the kids, though. The separation from their father had been a huge and relentless source of stress for the past few years, and the tension between my sister and Clint had been driving her insane. So it was good to see things improving on all fronts.
None of that changed the fact that I wanted to choke the ever-loving fuck out of him.
But he was apparently getting serious with Travis, his new boyfriend, and Mandy wanted to introduce the kids and get them used to the idea of staying here with the happy couple, and I’d promised to come along for moral support, so . . . I was fucking stuck. Two days down. Seven to go. Ironically, I kind of wanted a drink, but that would only make me feel worse. And quite possibly make Mandy think I was trying to taunt him and prove he was less “recovering” and more “alcoholic.”
So no drink for me. Not even as I sat on one end of the couch, separated from Clint by Travis, trying not to grind my teeth to dust. Everyone—Mandy, Clint, Travis, and Travis’s daughter, Kimber—were chatting about something, but I wasn’t paying attention. I kept my gaze fixed on Mandy’s kids, who were kicking a soccer ball around in the backyard.
The room was suddenly quiet, and as I looked around, I realized everyone was watching me. Self-consciously, I sat up. “What?”
Mandy gestured at Clint. “He was asking how work is going.”
I glanced at Clint. Really? You think I want to chat with you about my job? Why don’t we talk about how much you stomped on my sister’s heart? Goddamn, I really needed that beer. If nothing else so I had a bottle to snap off on the edge of the coffee table and—
I cleared my throat. “Fine. Work’s fine.” I scooted to the edge of the sofa. “I’m, uh, going to go keep an eye on the kids.”
Nobody said a word or tried to stop me.
The kids were fine on their own. The yard was fenced in, and the three of them weren’t prone to fighting, so they could play without someone watching their every move. Mostly, I wanted to be alone for a while, and catch my breath. After all, I’d been grinding my teeth for two solid days. Today, my hackles had been up since lunch, when Clint had mentioned that he and Travis were talking about getting married. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. They were obviously in love, and they’d apparently been shacking up for a while now, so why the hell not? Why be annoyed over him finding happiness and stability?
Because you don’t deserve any of this, Clint.
To be fair, I was glad to see that he’d sobered up, and he did seem much calmer and more relaxed than he’d been during that horrible period when he’d destroyed everything. With time, I might be more charitable toward him. If Mandy could forgive him enough to be sitting there in the living room, chatting happily while the kids played in the backyard, then I was probably the asshole in this situation. But, damn, it was hard to look at him without seeing the slurring, snarling, red-eyed fucker who’d been the reason my sister had called me in tears almost every night for several months.
Except he hasn’t had a drink the whole time we’ve been here.
It wasn’t that hard to be sober for a couple of days, though. And it wasn’t like this was a dry household. There was beer in the fridge. Some bottles of wine on the counter. Aside from Clint, every adult had had one or two since Mandy and I had been here.
He didn’t seem stressed about it. I’d scrutinized the shit out of him the first night, watching for a longing look at a glass or a bottle, but he’d barely seemed to notice anyone was drinking at all. He’d even held Travis’s beer bottle for a moment last night while Travis had lit a cigarette, and there hadn’t been so much as a flicker of wanting in his eyes. And I’d looked for it too.
He’d been bleary-eyed today, like he hadn’t slept well. Which, now that I thought about it, he’d looked like that since I’d been here. It was just more noticeable today, like last night had been exceptionally bad. And Mandy had told me Clint was struggling pretty hard with some PTSD. So maybe that was why he looked so tired. Or like he’d aged a decade since the last time I’d seen him.
Behind me, the sliding glass door opened. My hackles went up again, but settled back down when the slightly uneven footsteps told me who it was. Travis walked with a slight limp. I didn’t know the full story behind it—I was surprised he was still on active duty with a visible injury like that—and didn’t ask. I did feel kind of like a jerk for assuming at first that he was sore from something he and Clint had done in the bedroom—and I’d been pissed, thinking they were rubbing it in Mandy’s face that they were together—but the longer I was around him, the more I thought this was something chronic. At one point, Travis had gone to get up from the couch, but winced, and Clint had instantly turned to him with genuine concern written all over his face. They’d exchanged “Are you okay?”/ “Yeah, I’m fine” looks, but Clint had still helped Travis stand, and Travis hadn’t objected.
So yeah. I was an asshole. Immediately assuming the worst at every turn.
To celebrate the release of Chief’s Mess, one lucky winner will receive their choice of two eBooks off L. A. Witt’s backlist (excluding Chief’s Mess) and a $10 Riptide Publishing store credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on June 24, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!
About the Author & Links:
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer who has finally been released from the purgatorial corn maze of Omaha, Nebraska, and now spends her time on the southwestern coast of Spain. In between wondering how she didn’t lose her mind in Omaha, she explores the country with her husband, several clairvoyant hamsters, and an ever-growing herd of rabid plot bunnies. She also has substantially more time on her hands these days, as she has recruited a small army of mercenaries to search South America for her nemesis, romance author Lauren Gallagher, but don’t tell Lauren. And definitely don’t tell Lori A. Witt or Ann Gallagher. Neither of those twits can keep their mouths shut . . .
L. A.’s backlist is available on her website, and updates (as well as random thoughts and the odd snarky comment) can be found on her blog or on Twitter