Michael Bassey Johnson once said, “People will walk in and walk out of your life, but the one whose footstep made a long-lasting impression is the one you should never allow to walk out.”
When my dad told me we were moving to a little shit hole of a town called Springhill, Texas, my first day at school was filled with nothing but anger in my head and a huge chip on my shoulder. I never realized that one move would change my life. Never contemplated returning some nineteen years later torn between what was most important—a daughter—and the man and woman who still ached for me just as deeply as they did one another.
But someone is stalking the woman I love, the mother of my daughter. Her museum has been burned to the ground, her Jeep vandalized, and confidential suggestive photos sent to her family.
Secrets will be exposed.
Truths will be unveiled.
Lives will forever be changed.
Will these revelations bring us closer … or will one person from our past ruin everything and destroy our chances at forever?
When I was fifteen, my dad announced over a dinner of grilled hamburgers and my mother’s tropical fruit salad, that we were making another move. This time to a small shit-hole of a town in far West Texas called Springhill.
My dad was a hard-working man—an oilfield worker. Raised in a family of six in Southeastern Massachusetts, William Nathaniel Lee decided way before he graduated high school that the oilfield was the place for him, and not the cranberry bogs where he’d watched his father and many of his peers work since he was a young boy. Oilfield work guaranteed good money and didn’t involve fancy educations or high-powered skills, just hard manual labor. Dad had gone to work with William, Sr. many times growing up. He’d seen it all. Grueling hours of standing in flooded bogs from dawn to dusk, back-breaking physical work in the cold rain, dealing with insects, weeds, and fungi. William, Jr., aka ‘Dad’ or ‘Pops’ chose roughnecking over the cranberry bogs in his early years, earning a decent blue-collar living for his family. But also requiring moves from city to city, state to state, following the ever-changing ups and downs of the oil and gas industry.
Three changes of residency in four years meant another new address. Another new school. Boxes to unpack. New people to meet. New churches to join. Leaving was never easy, but this move had been more than just setting up a new house, making new friends, or adapting to a new town. This move changed everything.
It was life-defining.
A turning point.
One that would forever change who I was and who I would become.
I stood in the cafeteria line, new to town, alone, uncomfortable, staring at what they were calling meatloaf. Mediocre-looking at its best, there wasn’t much of anything I wouldn’t eat other than anything green and classified as a vegetable, but the overpowering scent of garlic in this place had bile rising up my throat. Perfectly squared cubes of gray-looking meat. Vegetables that were near mush. Dry mashed potatoes that were most definitely instant. I grunted in disgust.
“Looks like utter, putrid shit, doesn’t it?”
The low rumbling tone had me spinning on my feet and looking to my right. His voice was heavy. It was powerful, robust, one that demanded you listened as it spoke. It was cultured and smooth, but potent, commanding, and possessive. And when I got my first good look at him, I would have dropped my last dollar that he had to be from one of the swanky ranching families in the area. It wasn’t that he was dressed particularly fancy, but he just had that kind of aura to him that stopped you in your tracks. Features strong and defined. Eyes the color of the earth. Lips full, thick, and bending into a sly grin. Slightly wavy, tousled dark hair. All framed by a distinguished chin and muscles rippling underneath his shirt that made my body flush warm. Just one look at this guy and his wide shoulders, flat stomach, and long sturdy legs clad in faded Levi’s leading to scuffed-up brown western boots, and I was positive that he was someone special, someone who would be in my life for years to come.
I felt drawn to him, like right then and there he was claiming me with silent whispers that one day I would be his. From that very moment, I wanted to know him better. My God, I ached to know him in wrongful ways a boy was only meant to know a girl. Ways I knew were unethical and unjust and ungodly. Ways that, for the next two years of my life, I would try my best to forget and overlook.
Ways that would only grow stronger as I grew older.
“Smells like utter shit as well,” I responded, while wondering why someone like him chose to eat someplace like this when surely he had a hired cook and fancy meals waiting for him at home.
He took a step closer—his shoulders almost touching mine, his chocolate eyes narrowing as he held out a strong hand—while shame, remorse, and a deplorable urgent need and hunger sucked the air from my lungs and lodged deep in my throat. In that split second, something powerful and almost soothing told me this person would one day be my kindred spirit, my soul mate, and my eternal companion.
“Keith Ryker.” His lips curved when he held out a hand to shake, the sound of his cultured voice electric, the glimmer in his eyes bright, yet flashing with something dark, wicked, and powerful.
“Name’s Jason Lee. Glad to make your acquaintance.”
Less than five years later, I was following my old man’s footsteps. Working in the oil patch. Hauling parts to far-flung sites. Roughnecking on a pulling unit. And living the life of a bi-sexual man.
And now, in my mid-thirties, I’ve moved up the ladder and landed myself a good-paying job with a nice retirement package and long list of quality benefits. I’ve traveled all over the world. Met hundreds of interesting people. I’ve visited beautiful blue sandy beaches, high, snow-covered mountains, and cities full of trash, smog, and poverty on every other corner. Working in the oilfield industry has given me the opportunity to relocate to a long string of cities and states, and even countries. Yet, out of all the white sandy coastlines, snow-covered Alps kissing the heavens, and peaceful drifting waterfalls, I chose Springhill. For one reason—to be a part of my daughter’s life, even if she doesn’t know who her true biological father is. And though there are times that I feel like life would be simpler somewhere else, deep down I know I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But along with all the good always comes the bad. Picking up where I left off has been hard. Excruciatingly. While I live out my life in Springhill, enjoying my growing bank account, driving fancy cars, and traveling the world, I’ll stand by Keith and Jen. I’ll watch them live as man and wife, share tender touches, trade loving smiles, raise children, while I remain the same old Jason.
A man torn. A man lonely. A man broken.
Keith and Jen will carry forward. They will live on, move ahead, and have everything, as I stand firm, survive, persevere, pretend that my insides aren’t in bloody painful pieces, and continue to have … nothing.
My mind is in shreds. At no time have I ever considered something so vicious as this in the small country town of Springhill. Arson… Motherfucking hell, what I’ve just witnessed is a picture I will never erase from my mind.
Warm water runs down my back and releases some of the tight tension while I scrub the nauseating stench of smoke from my skin. Fifteen minutes, maybe longer, have passed since I stripped out of my soiled clothes and stepped inside the shower, but I can still feel the heat of the flames. Still smell the ruins of destruction. Still see pain flashing in Jen’s eyes, anger, rage, and guilt in Keith’s. All as I stood shocked, helpless, and hopeless. Yearning to comfort Jen in my arms. Desperate to relax the remorse and stress from Keith just the way I know he likes.
Christ, I pine for all that I’ve lost. Some days I’m not sure if I’m alive or dead with this hole in my heart bleeding and aching, cold and bitter. I just want him … and her … and us. So. Motherfucking. Much.
Steam has misted the mirror and clouded the air when I step from the shower. I flip on the exhaust fan then reach for a towel with a wave of fatigue creeping up on me. I’m suddenly tired as fuck, ready to grab a bite to eat and crawl into bed. After I toss the wet towel onto the vanity, I leave a trail of water behind me and saunter into the attached bedroom, naked, my body hard with need, my mind swirling with a dozen thoughts.
“Jesus fucking Christ! Nothing like sneaking up on a man when he’s naked!”
Keith is standing with his hip against the door frame. His hands are inside his pockets. His eyes are glued to mine and glazed over with a look I know all too well. He’s tired. He’s stressed. He’s worried.
He’s hard as iron underneath his jeans.
For seconds that feel like minutes, we both stand and stare. Neither of us moves. Neither of us speaks. His cocoa-hued gaze doesn’t budge. It’s like cement against mine. When I can no longer stand to look at his symmetrical bone structure, the high and prominent cheekbones, a tightened jaw rough with several days of stubble, and that perfectly thick erection that I’m dying to touch, I break the uncomfortable silence.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Something dark, something deep, something threatening flashes beneath his hardened expression. A look I crave and need and long for, and one that almost undoes me.
“Think you know why I’m here.”
He takes long strides in my direction, boldly, fearlessly, and stops only inches in front of me with his lips coiling in some sullen kind of emotion. For a fraction of a minute, his gaze lingers on mine, his eyes dark and stormy. He slides a rough hand down the length of my stomach, stopping at my dick. “Your eyes are hungry,” he says with a husky drawl. “That beautiful cock of yours is dripping with arousal.”
He presses his warm lips into the hollow of my throat that I feel absolutely everywhere. “And your neck is flushed … boy.” And with that, his fingers are sliding underneath the back of my hair. He’s pulling my lips to his, swallowing them, his tongue dipping deep, probing and stroking as he kisses into my mouth with a desperate ferocity like he not only craves the kiss, but more of a have-to-have kind of kiss.
“I fucking need you. You need me. We complete each other. So stop fighting what’s inevitable.” With one hand palming my length and the other moving around toward my windpipe, his jaw tenses when I inadvertently release a sensual moan. Every damn thing he’s doing feels so fucking good. I want nothing more than to let him take me out of this hell-filled misery, bend me over, sink his teeth into my flesh, and then feed every inch of his cock inside me until he’s balls deep.
With his palm pressing against my throat, I can barely catch my breath. My hands itch to reach out and touch him. My knees are shaking to drop before him. My lips crave the taste of his warm, salty release … and my cock is hard and ready to turn the proverbial page. To flip him over, spread him apart with my palms, and take him hard and deep with no compassion, very little or no lube, and show him I’m not the same Jason as before. Right now, at this moment, I’m not his boy.
I do none of these things I’m thinking. Instead, I pull back, my chest balled with emotion, my body in confusing misery, my heart splitting right down the middle. “No,” I manage to say without falling apart. “We’re not doing this. You’re married. You have two girls to raise. My daughter to raise. And whoever did this to the museum knows something. You damn well know it. And I won’t put the people I love at risk. So, just go.”
Fucking fuck. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, the worst pain I’ve ever felt. Part of me wants to apologize for what I’ve just said and ask him—plead with him—not to go. The other side of me hears my dad’s voice telling me to stay strong and stand tall. Before any words form, his thumb is brushing against my chin and his lips are crushing against mine again. My body is weakening, my willpower turning to dust. He moves lower and sucks hard at the sensitive part of my neck. Teasing. Taunting. Punishing and tormenting with the wicked warm feel of his mouth and the small touch of pain and pleasure he knows I crave and desire.
“Seeing my marks on your neck turns me to fucking stone.” His lips press to my ear. “With your dick that damned hard and your heart thudding against your chest, give me one good reason to believe you don’t want me to stay. Stop playing these mind games, Jason. Let me give you what we both need, what we’ve always needed.”
There’s almost an urgency in his tone, one that pulls a moan from my chest. He shifts, then bites, shifts again, bites again, and leaves what I know will be a red trail underneath my ear.
He steps back and we share another long moment of miserable silence with his hand still squeezing at my cock. His eyes are fixed, hungry, and damn near black. They’re pinned to mine like unmovable magnets. “Jason, I don’t want to leave. I don’t think I can.” Grudging, bitter torment fills his tone while his gaze turns to liquid. “I miss you. God help me, I miss you. She misses you. The three of us need to be together.”
“Jesus,” I respond without breaking eye contact. “People will talk. People will motherfucking crucify. They already have.”
Confusion stirs like bubbling acid inside my chest. I crave this man more than should be humanly possible. This pain, this incessant need inside me is worse than any form of hell, more agonizing than an open wound, more excruciating than burning flames against my flesh. Every word he’s spoken is true. I want the three of us. I long for him and me and for my time with Jen. These needs own me, dominate every thought, and rule every action. They crawl inside me like a painful cancer and linger like the red-hot fires of the nether world. But it can’t be. It won’t work. I’ve told myself a hundred times that it simply isn’t logical.
I place my hands on either side of his shoulders. “You chose Jen. Jen chose you. You’re married. You have a family, a responsibility. Go be with your wife. She’s upset. She’s scared. She needs her husband right now. And she loves you so much, dammit. Just go.”
His eyes glisten with torment, frustration, and anger. He gives a huff of laughter then runs a rough finger over my trembling lips. “And who the fuck do you think sent me here, Jason?”
“Doesn’t matter. Go home, Keith.”
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