At eighteen, Joel Smith’s life fell to pieces. His boyfriend died in a car crash while reading a sext from him, the local newspaper outed them both in the aftermath, and his parents got a divorce. Joel did everything possible to outrun his past: he moved to Oklahoma for college, legally changed his name, and started over.
Since then, he hasn’t let anyone get close—not his classmates, not his roommate, and definitely not his hookups. The strategy has served him well for over three years. Why would he change it now?
But Joel doesn’t plan on the articles about his boyfriend’s death being used as a case study in one of his classes. And he doesn’t plan on Paulie McPherson, who is sweet and giving and fun. In Paulie, he finds a home for the first time in years.
But love isn’t simple, and lies have a tendency to get in the way. Joel must figure out if he’ll allow his grief to rule him, or if his connection with Paulie is worth letting all of his walls come tumbling down.
Sweat prickled on my neck as soon as I walked into the auditorium classroom. Why was it always hot as balls in here? It was going to make it hard to stay awake today.
I slunk to my normal seat at the very back. I would gladly skip Ethics in News and Media if I could. It was a huge class, so it wasn’t like Dr. Milner would notice—it wasn’t like he even knew my fucking name. But his snooty TA, Jacob, took attendance, and it was something like fifteen percent of our grade.
“Well, hello, Joel Smith!” I looked up blearily at the owner of the purring voice, only to be confronted by my obnoxiously perky classmate Paulie McPherson. “Rough night?” he asked with a chuckle.
Paulie was this cute, swishy guy who had claimed me as a class buddy because he’d recognized me from the local gay bar. His name, he told me before the first class, was Paul, but everyone who was anyone called him Paulie. That first day, he grabbed a seat next to me, told me he had a 4.0 GPA, and always found a responsible person to befriend in case the world ended and he had to miss class. “Then I’ll be able to borrow your notes, and you can borrow mine if you miss,” he’d said. “You take good notes, right?” After a mumbled reply from me, he’d smiled and asked, “You’re not dumb, are you? I could go find someone else.” I assured him I was not dumb and would take excellent notes on days he was absent. Besides that exchange, we’d hardly spoken.
Or, well, I’d hardly spoken. Paulie always tried to draw me into conversation.
Good luck with that.
“I’m okay,” I told Paulie. He shrugged, settled into his seat beside me, and arranged his pile of sticky notes and different-colored highlighters.
This was definitely my least-favorite class. Journalism was not my thing. But my advisor had “advised” me to take it since I still needed my mandatory ethics credit, and the class was notorious for being easy. Which was what I wanted in my general education courses. Easy.
The class clatter quieted as Dr. Milner approached the podium, and his TA dimmed the lights. The projector flicked on. Can I sleep without anyone noticing? I’d stayed out at the Lumberyard way too late yesterday, especially for a Wednesday night. And the evening had been a complete bust: not only had I gone home alone, but Travis, my best friend and housemate, had gotten lucky and kept me up even later. Loud bastard.
I laid my head on the little tablet desk and closed my eyes.
Dr. Milner cleared his throat. “As most of you know from the syllabus, today we’re focusing on the treatment of minors in the press, and we’ll continue to evaluate what constitutes private versus public matters.” Dr. Milner plodded on for a couple of minutes, and I tried to ignore the scratching of Paulie’s pen as he took notes.
I pulled my jacket off the back of my chair and folded it up under my head as a pillow. The hot room and the hum of the professor’s voice were going to lull me to sleep.
“Our case study is from a little-known incident in a small town in Nebraska, in which a young man died in a car accident while reading a text message from his alleged boyfriend. After his death, he and his boyfriend, both minors at the time, were outed by the press. Jacob is passing around a packet of the articles we’ll look at today, the first of which is titled ‘Online Exclusive: Local Baseball Star Dies Reading Sext from Boyfriend.’”
I jerked my head up and almost tumbled from the chair. The newspaper article on the projector at the front of the class caught my eye.
Horror climbed my esophagus like bile. No, wait. That was actual bile.
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About the Author & Links:
Erin McLellan writes contemporary romance, often set in the South or Midwest—particularly Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas—with characters that are complex, good-hearted, and sometimes a little quirky. Erin likes her stories to have a sexy spark and a happily ever after.
Erin has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Oklahoma State University and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has always enjoyed writing, but becoming a librarian and meeting enthusiastic romance readers helped her find her own writing passion. Now Erin cheerfully writes romance with characters across the LGBTQIA spectrum. A former public librarian, she still enjoys being surrounded by books and readers, but Erin hopes to find her stories on the shelves as well.
Originally from Oklahoma, she currently lives in Alaska with her husband, and spends her time dreaming up love stories set in the Great Plains. She is a lover of chocolate, college sports, antiquing, Dr Pepper, and binge-worthy TV shows.