I’ve escaped a past that would have destroyed most men: used, abused and sold for sex from a young age by those who should have protected me, an unexpected moment of compassion from a stranger gives me a chance at a new life.
Though I’ve started over, my scars run deep; I’m an LGBTQ fantasy graphic novel writer and artist with a huge following, but I’m terrified of the world. When I discover that the stranger who saved me from a life of abuse is the same man who has finally awakened my body to desire, I realize the truth: Can I ever really be free if I’m still afraid of my past and the people who shattered me?
Serving as a medic in the Middle East, I felt the life of my fiancée slip away under my hands and was powerless to stop it. Discharged with physical and emotional wounds I can’t heal, I go home to my crazy, geeky family and try to learn to live with the damage.
Pain and grief lead me to some acts I’m not proud of, including paying strangers for sex. I’m determined to keep it strictly business, no emotions involved, but when I discover that Mason Malone isn’t a high-end escort, but a battered young man forced into a life of pain and degradation, I’m frozen in indecision. Then the man with the raven curls and blue-gold eyes whispers “Please…” and the barriers I built around my heart shatter.
Years later, fate brings us back together. He has a new name and career, but I could never forget those eyes. Mason, unfortunately, doesn’t recognize me. Every day I find myself more and more drawn to him, but I’m terrified of what will happen when our secrets are discovered.
As both of our pasts threaten our future, can we find a path to redemption? Can love and forgiveness overcome soul-shattering pain? Or will the discovery of our shared past create a chasm too wide to bridge?
Warning: PTSD, major anxiety issues, and sexual abuse, including rape, the aftermath of child molestation, and human trafficking.
I couldn’t have found a better person to help get Mason out of his own head. He saw her freeze outside the door to the alcove where his signing table was located. As soon as Mason saw Jeri, he smiled. Jeri was very slim, just starting that gangly phase of adolescence that let you begin to glimpse the person they would become in five or ten years.
“Hi!” Mason said, sending a small, shy wave her way.
“…Hey,” she squeaked, her voice breaking, and I could see her hand was shaking where she held a dog-eared copy of Mason’s book.
“I’m Mason,” he said softly.
“Of course, you’re Mason. I mean, you look just like him.” She lifted the graphic novel in her hand, which held a small photo of Mason on the back of it. “Not that you have to look like this, of course, because, who knows how real things are with Photoshop and all, but I did see some pictures in the Comics Guide a few months ago, but I didn’t know when the photos were taken and you could have looked completely different by now. I mean…” she continued, barely pausing for breath. “I change my hair color like, all the time, so why couldn’t you? And I’m really babbling, aren’t I?” She stopped suddenly and clamped her lips together tightly. “I do this. I babble. When I’m nervous. I’m Jeri.”
“Well, you want to know a secret, Jeri?” Mason asked, leaning forward on the table. Her eyes were wide, and she nodded jerkily.
“I’m nervous, too.” Her eyes got even wider at the disclosure. “Terrified, actually. I’m not really good around groups of people, so the thought of meeting everyone out there…” Mason gestured at the line of people outside the store. “…makes me kinda sick to my stomach.”
“But…” she looked him up and down, puzzlement in her expression. “But why? They… we… are all here because we like you. Like your work, I mean” she said, her hand jerkily waving at the stacks of books and artwork.
“Good question. I wish I knew the answer to it. I think maybe it’s because I’m afraid I’ll never live up to their idea of me. And the thought of meeting this many people scares me, but…” He glanced over at me as I glared at a couple of agitated and excited teens waiting in line, quelling their exuberant spirits with a look. “…a smart man once told me to take it one step at a time. One person at a time. I figure the only way I’m going to get over being scared of people, is to meet more of them,” Mason replied. “Because once you get to know most people, it’s hard to be scared of them. Take Lee over there…”
He nodded toward me, and Jeri’s eyes flitted over for a moment, her posture relaxing and her lips not quite so tight anymore. We had spent a lot of time working on the store together.
“I was scared to death of him a day ago, but today, I know he’s a pretty nice guy who is obsessed with tiny robots.”
Mason grinned at me and Jeri smiled. She had seen my Transformer collection when I’d moved it from my parents’ house to mine. “Kind of hard to be afraid of a guy who likes tiny robots,” she agreed.
Mellanie Rourke lives in Akron, Ohio with her loving (and long-suffering) husband, two snarky children, and furry menagerie.
She has been writing since she was a child but never had the impulse to publish until she was introduced to the world of M/M Romance. Now her husband has to put up with a variety of new ways to describe a penis, and her children aren’t allowed to tell their teachers what she writes.